Paraguay top Group F despite goalless draw with New Zealand

Paraguay top Group F despite goalless draw with New Zealand

Paraguay drew 0-0 with New Zealand on Thursday in Polokwane but reached the last 16 as Group F winners, dpa reported.

   The South Americans had the better opportunities to win the game but with New Zealand goalkeeper Mark Paston saving well from Cristian Riveros in the best of the South Americans' chances, the game ended goalless.

   New Zealand go home unbeaten, having finished above Italy, while Paraguay go on to play the runners-up of Group E in Pretoria on Tuesday.

   New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said his side could return home with a feeling of pride.

   "It was quite an emotional night for us." he said.

   "If you can be proud and disappointed at the same time - I don't now how you can put it together. We were resolute and tough, they really struggled to penetrate. I am disappointed but no one is prouder than me by what this team has achieved."

   He added: "A lot of people said we shouldn't be here and we had amateurs and weren't good enough. That's dead and buried now."

   Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino brought Denis Caniza into defence and the captain became the first player to represent the nation at four World Cups. Defender Julio Cesar Caceres and striker Oscar Cardozo also came in.

   "It was not a good match, it was a bad match, very complicated," Martino admitted.

   "Nobody played well, everybody was very nervous. The pitch (partly synthetic) was fast, much more than other stadiums. In the second half we pushed on a bit more than in the first. The best part of this match was that we qualified."

   In their last four matches in the World Cup Paraguay have becoming the late-goal specialists scoring at least once in the last six minutes of games.

   But having performed so well in their opening two games they needed just a draw to qualify against group outsiders New Zealand. Herbert's team was unchanged from the one that held defending champions Italy to a 1-1 draw on Sunday.

   Paraguay made a predictably conservative start although not everyone was conserving their energy for a potential last-16 match.

   Victor Caceres ran his studs down the back of New Zealand striker Rory Fallon's ankle and Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura booked him, ruling him out of Paraguay's next game.

   On 29 minutes Paraguay had their first real chance when captain Caniza ran on to a Roque Santa Cruz pass but failed to get his shot on target.

   New Zealand's half-time team talk surely centred on the great chance Italy's defeat was giving them to progress to the last-16. They responded at the restart with their first chance of the game.

   Tony Lochhead crossed from the left and the when the ball was cleared to Simon Elliott he hit a right-foot drive that went narrowly wide.

   On 58 minutes Cardoza responded with a free-kick from 30 metres that just cleared Paston's cross bar. New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen was booked ruling him out of the next round should his team score but that was looking increasingly unlikely.

   Paraguay resumed controlled and should have taken the lead on 64 minutes when Caniza crossed and Cristian Riveros saw his header saved by Paston.

   With three minutes left New Zealand almost got the winner with Chris Wood a whisker from turning in Shane Smeltz' header across the face of the Paraguay goal, but he was offside anyway.

   Italy's defeat would have meant New Zealand going through had they won but it was Paraguay who had the better of a poor match and the Kiwis go home with the South Americans topping the group.

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