POLOKWANE: Paraguay topped Group F at the World Cup on Thursday after a drab 0-0 draw with surprise packets New Zealand.
The polished South Americans who harbour dreams of at least a quarter-finals place ended with five points and were joined in the round of 16 by Slovakia, who stunned defending champions Italy 3-2 in Johannesburg.
It was a gallant exit by New Zealand, who finished unbeaten after three draws in a group where they were expected to be cannon fodder for the other three contenders but ended up finishing above the woeful Italians.
Paraguay made three changes from the team that outclassed Slovakia 2-0 in Bloemfontein four days ago with defenders Denis Caniza and Julio Cesar Caceres and striker Oscar Cardozo coming in.
New Zealand stood by the team that started drawn matches against Slovakia and defending champions Italy with Mark Paston retained as goalkeeper although first-choice Glen Moss had completed a four-match suspension.
Victor Caceres was cautioned by the Japanese referee for fouling Rory Fallon during scrappy early exchanges with rival players constantly moaning about the behaviour of their markers.
Captain Caniza proved an adventurous defender, coming forward twice to try his luck with shots that finished well off target, while a good Nelson Valdez run down the left flank was spoilt by a poor cross.
Goalmouth action was scarce in perfect, clear mid-afternoon conditions at Peter Mokaba Stadium during the last World Cup fixture at the purpose-built ground in the northern city.
Spectators were hoping for a better second half and club-less Simon Elliott offered early promise by unleashing a drive from outside the penalty area that did not finish far off target.
A restless 35,000 crowd performed the Mexican wave and blew their vuvuzelas, but the fare being offered on the pitch was far below that expected from teams who had held the world champions.
Even a free kick just outside the New Zealand penalty area as the game approached the hour-mark did not bring any excitement with Cardozo firing lazily over.
It took 62 minutes to get a corner and Paraguay almost took the lead from it as Paston did well to parry a glancing Cristian Riveros header and the ball was cleared after a fierce goalmouth scramble.
Managers Gerardo Martino and Ricki Herbert made changes in a bid to break the deadlock with Paraguay bringing on strikers Lucas Barrios and Edgar Benitez while Chris Wood replaced Fallon.
Another New Zealand switch saw the introduction of Jeremy Brockie for Middlesbrough striker Chris Killen as the group outsiders sought the goal that would take them past the first round.
BDST: 1006hrs, June 24, 2010