Paraguay progress as NZ exit
Kiwis' bravery unrewarded as Paraguay top group
By Danny Wright. Last Updated: June 24, 2010 5:51pm
New Zealand: Denied by Paraguay
New Zealand's remarkable World Cup adventure came to a close as they shared a 0-0 draw with Paraguay that saw the South American country progress as Group F winners.
A bruising encounter prevailed at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane as New Zealand searched for a win that would see them do the unthinkable and qualify for the second round.
Only one point was required by Paraguay and their comfort showed as they offered a below-par display, although their quality was evident when All Whites keeper Mark Paston was forced into two excellent second-half saves from Cristian Riveros and then Edgar Benitez.
Ricki Herbert's team plugged away late on as they searched for a winner, but they were unable to trouble the Paraguay goal and could only finish third, despite completing their pool unbeaten.
Paraguay also boast an undefeated streak and are rewarded with a round of 16 date against the runners-up of Group E next Tuesday in Pretoria.
Paraguay went into the clash top of the group and needed just a point to safeguard their passage into the knockout phase, meanwhile their counterparts had achieved a victory of sorts already by picking up two points in the campaign.
That tally was two points higher than expected prior to the campaign and to have a whiff of the final 16, and the prospect of knocking reigning champions Italy out, made the situation all the more remarkable for the minnows of the tournament.
The excitement could easily have sent Herbert's team off course in the early stages, but they acquitted themselves admirably against a Paraguay side that had impressed in South Africa.
And it was Shane Smeltz, anointed in New Zealand football folklore after his goal in their draw against the Azzurri, who gained first sight of goal when he shot over after cutting in from the left.
Self-belief was not in short supply amongst the Kiwis and they got the ball forward early to keep the Paraguay defensive line on the back foot, with the odd neat interchange in the final third adding intricacy to the brawn of the New Zealand attack.
Paraguay were finding it difficult to implement their own passing game on affairs and they relied on set-pieces, Denis Caniza slashing a half-volley over the bar from a loose ball in their only early foray forward.
Caniza then tried echoing Marco van Basten's historic effort from the 1988 European Championship an impossible angle to no avail as the game descended into the humdrum offerings associated with this year's tournament.
Nelson Valdez managed to get an effort on target with a long-range hit along the floor, however Paston showed solid handling to smother the shot.
The game restarted goalless and New Zealand again started the better as Simon Elliott let fly from outside the box only for the midfielder to miscue and see it sail over.
Herbert's team were defending with fortitude but the onus was still on them to attack given their need for three points, although they rarely seemed to venture toward the Paraguay goal.
Instead, Gerardo Martino's side looked the more likely and they were denied a goal when Paston made a fine save to thwart Riveros from a close-range header.
And the Kiwi keeper had to be at his very best again after 75 minutes when he turned away Edgar Benitez's low drive before reacting quickly to foil fellow substitute Lucas Barrios on the follow-up.
A late surge finally came from the New Zealanders as they peppered the Paraguay box with an aerial bombardment and Chris Wood came tantalisingly close to converting a cross, but it was not to be and their brave journey came to an almost heroic conclusion.