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Kiwis seek to fly even higher

Paraguay and New Zealand will be trying to write their own pieces of World Cup history when they meet in their final Group F match.

sports Updated: Jun 24, 2010 04:15 IST

Paraguay and New Zealand will be trying to write their own pieces of World Cup history when they meet in their final Group F match.

Paraguay lead with four points and want a win to be certain of topping the group and gaining a smoother path to their first ever quarterfinal. Winning the group will likely set up a match in the last 16 against Denmark or Japan instead of the higher-ranked Netherlands.

Striker Roque Santa Cruz said Paraguay “are thinking if we keep performing as well as we expect ... and keep working as hard as we are now, anything is possible.”

New Zealand have two points and must beat Paraguay — or get a better result than Italy against Slovakia in a simultaneous match — to reach the knockout stages of a World Cup for the first time.

At their only previous appearance, in 1982, the All Whites lost their three group matches and were outscored 2-12 on aggregate by Scotland, Soviet Union and Brazil.

This time, 78th-ranked New Zealand have stunned many by remaining unbeaten, with 1-1 draws against Slovakia and defending champion Italy.

“It's the most incredible result we've had across the board,” NZ coach Ricki Herbert said. “As a football coach, it's way above anything we've achieved in the history of the game.” Captain Ryan Nelsen said opponents playing New Zealand don't take anything for granted anymore.

“Probably people underestimated us, and now they're not,” he said. “Most teams probably thought (playing NZ) was a banker for them. Now they know they'll have to play well to beat us.”

Earning their first WC points made the Kiwis not just proud, but left them longing for more.

“We are always daring to dream,” Herbert said. “At the World Cup anything is possible — we've seen some strange results.” Herbert was expected to stick to a 5-2-3 formation that started against Slovakia and Italy, though he might bring in Tim Brown for the midfielder's first appearance at the tournament.

The 29-year-old Brown has been recovering from surgery on a shoulder injury and might be fit again in time for the Paraguay game.

Regular goalkeeper Glen Moss is also available after suspension, but may not dislodge Mark Paston, who impressed against Italy. Paraguay is on the brink of a fourth appearance in the last 16 of a WC, but are still to go beyond that. They held Italy to a 1-1 draw before defeating Slovakia 2-0.

“These results have strengthened us mentally and spiritually, not just as football players but in our attitude as well,” coach Gerardo Martino said. Paraguay is led by a three-man attack of Nelson Valdez, Lucas Barrios and Santa Cruz, who missed the opener but started the next game after shaking off a leg injury.