Less than two weeks in and already this World Cup is taking its toll. This morning I overslept for the first time (thanks to a dreary England victory which some England fans are hailing as a new dawn) and I have to stay awake tonight for the game that Wellington’s Dominion Post are calling “One game to glory”. Seeing as they called the Bahrain game last year “One shot at glory” perhaps they should a) find a new cliché or b) realise that this New Zealand side is going to have plenty of these sort of events as the team matures or c) all of the above.
The shadow looming over the game is that the vultures are circling over Ricki Herbert and he is refusing to rule out a high profile move to Europe, Asia or Aus once the comp is over. While I hate the idea of the Phoenix and All Whites projects being derailed no one could begrudge Herbert an opportunity further afield and he should go while his stocks are highest.
A few months ago Peter D and I jokingly suggested to the West Ham list we are both on that Ricki would be a good bet to replace Gianfranco Zola. He’s got all his badges, his teams are composed, well organised and play for each other and he’s an excellent judge of a player - some of those ‘Nix signings last year were excellent and players like Winston Reid (Midtjylland in Denmark) and Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town) have been a revelation.
So, tonight: the pundits are suggesting that Paraguay will have more firepower than our previous opponents and that might be true. South American flair will have a better chance of unlocking Nelsen’s defence than the Europeans.
If I were Herbert, I would drop the talismanic Fallon (France’s Gourcoff was sent off yesterday for a very Fallon-like elbow-leading challenge) and replace him with the beefy Chris Wood who, I think, needs more time on the pitch to sharpen up. He made some great chances late in the Italy game and he makes things happen on the ground rather than in the air. For all the talk of our aerial power Smeltz and Elliott have enough skill in their feet to keep any defence busy.
It was a pleasure to see Bertos running at defenders for the first time since his injury break mid-season - it means his confidence is finally returning - and Vicelich has done nothing to justify being replaced by the unlucky Brown (who will get a run out some time tonight).
If we attack, we’re in with a shout. It’s as simple as that.
Written by the brilliant Dan Slevin