POLOKWANE - Paraguay eased into the last 16 of the World Cup with an unadventurous draw against a New Zealand team that exit the tournament undefeated and with their heads held high.
Three draws, including a memorable 1-1 with world champions Italy, were above and beyond expectations for the Kiwis and they received an appreciative send off from their supporters at the end.
GEAR: Get a Paraguay shirt
A team of very limited international experience and modest technical ability showed enough good organisation, discipline and effort in just their second World Cup finals to finish above the Italians in Group F.
"I think I need to pinch myself," said New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert. "If you are going to exit the World Cup there are good ways of doing it.
"A lot of people thought we shouldn't be here and that we had amateurs who were not up to it. But I think that's dead and buried now."
Paraguay created the better chances but, knowing a point was enough for them to secure passage to the second round, they took few risks and were rarely troubled by Herbert's team who, for all their graft, did not manage a single shot on goal.
The only real moment of panic for Paraguay came with six minutes of regular time remaining when Shane Smeltz put a ball across the face of the goal and 18-year-old substitute Chris Wood, sliding in at the back post, almost reached it.
LACK OF URGENCY
There was a surprising lack of urgency though from the All Whites who, with Slovakia beating Italy, could have even topped the group with a win.
In a dull first half, Paraguay enjoyed the better possession but were unable to translate that into real goalscoring opportunities, their attack lacking a cutting edge.
"I'm pleased with the qualification but not with the way we played," said Paraguay's coach Gerardo Martino.
"We had a lot of problems in an area where we didn't expect, and that was in attack."
The best two efforts 45 minutes in the opening came from skipper and right-back Denis Caniza with two long range shots.
Indeed, the first corner of the match did not come until the 62nd minute and it produced the best effort with a Cristian Riveros header well saved by New Zealand's dependable keeper Mark Paston.
Paraguay brought on forwards Lucas Barrios and Edgar Benitez in a bid to liven up their attack and the change had the desired effect.
After the best passing move of the game, Benitez produced a curling shot that was pushed out.
Then Roque Santa Cruz, who showed some glimpses of quality, brought a good save out of Paston from an 80th minute free kick.
"We're very happy to have qualified but it was a very difficult game," said Santa Cruz.
"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."comments