New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert felt his side bowed out of the FIFA World Cup™ with pride as, despite a goalless draw against Paraguay, they missed an historical qualification for the knockout stages by a point. The All Whites drew all three games and finished ahead of defending champions Italy but it was not enough to put them into the last 16.
However, Herbert - who refused to be drawn on his own future - had nothing but praise for his squad. "I am delighted with what the guys have done. I'll need to pinch myself," he said. "Probably tonight was always going to be based on those one or two chances and if we got them then great.
"It is really great we are talking about beating the likes of Paraguay. That is fantastic. "We will not go through another World Cup unbeaten. It is only our second time at the World Cup so to come here and completely reverse what we did before [they lost all three matches in 1982] is amazing. Can you get any closer [to qualifying]? A lot of people thought we shouldn't have been here, that we had amateurs in the team that weren't good enough but I think that is dead and buried now."
Herbert's contract ran out at the end of the tournament but he refused to say what the future held for him. "I'm going to Hong Kong for five days' holiday tomorrow - unfortunately," he added. "I think when you look at the team 85% of it can go on to the 2014 programme and there are not a lot of sides that are in that position. The future looks extremely bright for this team. It will be the next coach's job to look and find and see what they think."
A lot of people thought we shouldn't have been here, that we had amateurs in the team that weren't good enough but I think that is dead and buried now.
Herbert joked his team's performances deserved a move up the world rankings from their current position of 78th. "You can read the list tomorrow. Italy, France they are all sitting behind us," he said. "I think we are a good shot to finish in the top 25 in the world now!"
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino's side finished top of Group F but he bemoaned their lack of a cutting edge against the All Whites. "We played very badly in the first half and we played better in the second half," he said. "I'm pleased with the qualification but not with the way we played. We had a lot of problems in an area where we didn't expect, and that was in attack."
Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz added: "We're very happy to have qualified but it was a very difficult game. The game got boring because they were so defensive. In a game like this you expect to win but the important thing is we qualified."