Paraguay and New Zealand played to a scoreless draw on Thursday night. Maybe it was the cold air in Polokwane’s Peter Mokaba Stadium, but both Paraguay and New Zealand started off cold before finally creating some good moments of play in the second half. The tie, however, was enough to give La Albirroja the top spot in Group F and guarantee them an appearance in the second round.
In a game in which New Zealand was forced to win, it was actually Paraguay who came out striking, though not all that emphatically.
The first 20 minutes of the game went by relatively quietly. Although the teams managed to step inside the box, nothing threatening resulted.
The first shot at goal came in the 19th minute, when Paraguay’s Denis Caniza, who’s making his fourth World Cup appearance, came up with a ball on the top right edge of the box after a series of bounces. He whipped in a shot, but it went upward and outward and missed the target by about three feet.
New Zealand put all their scoring hopes on target man Rory Fallon. In the 30th minute, Leo Bertos dribbled down the right side and sent in a cross to Fallon, but Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar came down with the ball before Fallon could put a head on it.
The game’s first shot on target came by way of Paraguay in the 35th minute. Nelson Valdez, playing on the left wing rather than his usual spot up top, let loose a hard grazer from about 25 yards out that Kiwi keeper Mark Paston handled with ease.
In the second half, three minutes after the restart, New Zealand’s Simon Elliot finally got the Kiwi’s first shot after a failed defensive clearance landed at his feet, but his shot was a few yards off target.
Fourteen minutes later, Paraguay would have their clearest chance yet. After a short-played corner kick, Caniza sent in a short cross to midfielder Cristian Riveros, who twisted his head and put a good header on target. Paston deflected the attempt back into the box and, after a couple of whiffs from La Albirroja, the ball finally found its way out of the pitch.
With a quarter-hour left before the end of the game, Paraguay again pushed forward. Forward Roque Santa Cruz sent a pass into the box to Edgar Benitez, who came into the game for Valdez in the 67th minute. Paraguay’s No. 10 then shifted the ball to his right foot and took a crack at goal, but Pastson deflected it. As striker Lucas Barrios, another substitute, streaked in, the Kiwi goalie poked the ball away just in time.
In the 80th minute, Paston was forced to make yet another save. Santa Cruz lined up to take a free kick and his blast curled around the wall and onto the New Zealand’s netminder, who turned the shot aside.
During the last five minutes of play, New Zealand pushed forward, giving Paraguay some anxious moments in their zone. But, alas, La Albirroja held off the Kiwis and the game ended in a scoreless draw.
Paraguay, who finished atop their group after Italy lost to Slovakia, will next face the second spot team from Group E on June 29.
New Zealand’s three points from three draws were not enough to see them through, as Slovakia’s win put them a point ahead of the Kiwis in the group standings.
Paraguay -- Villar; Morel, J. C. Cáceres, Da Silva, Caniza; Valdez (Benitez, 67’), V. Cáceres, Riveros, Vera; Santa Cruz, Cardozo (Barrios, 66’)
New Zealand -- Paston; Vicelich, Smith, Nelsen, Reid; Lochhead, Elliott, Bertos; Smeltz, Fallon, Killen
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