Paraguay did what they had to do to top Group F with a scoreless draw with New Zealand in Polokwane on Thursday. The South Americans finished with five points, one ahead of Slovakia, who knocked out holders Italy in the group's other match, while the All Whites go out unbeaten after their third consecutive draw.
Chances were very few and far between in a contest between the naturally defensive New Zealanders and a Paraguay side who looked comfortable enough playing for the draw that would take them through. There were a few early opportunities from free-kicks, as Kiwi Chris Killen almost got to the end of a long ball to the far post and Paraguay captain Denis Caniza shot wide two minutes later, but given each side's well-organised defence, most of the action was restricted to the midfield. Caniza had the closest effort of the first period just before the half-hour mark, but his swerving shot was too high to trouble the goalkeeper.
New Zealand knew that a goal could send them through to the knockout rounds for the first time in their history, and they came out a bit more determined to go forward after half-time. The Oceanian representatives were almost rewarded in the 48th minute after some good work by Tony Lochhead down the left. The full-back's cross found Simon Elliott just outside the area, but the veteran midfielder blazed past the corner of the goal with plenty of space.
A measure of the lack of opportunities was that the first corner of the match did not come until the 62nd minute, but from that Paraguay went close to scoring. Claudio Morel took a clever short delivery, which reached the head of Cristian Riveros, but his glancing effort was saved by the quick reflexes of Mark Paston in goal. Paston proved himself the hero for New Zealand as Paraguay pushed hard for a winner as the match wore on. In the 76th minute, he dived well to save Edgar Benitez's shot, and then just got a touch at the feet of Lucas Barrios from the rebound to keep the ball out of his net. Shortly after, the big goalkeeper denied Roque Santa Cruz twice, once when he came off his line to smother at the striker's feet from a breakaway, next with a punch from a dipping shot off a free-kick.
It was still a historic finals for the All Whites, who won their first points in the FIFA World Cup, and finished the group undefeated and in front of four-time world champions Italy. Paraguay will now face the second-placed team from Group E, which will be the Netherlands, Japan or Denmark on 29 June in Pretoria.