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Paraguay draw with New Zealand to progress

Paraguay 0 New Zealand 0

New Zealand's World Cup fairytale came to an end at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane after a goalless draw with Paraguay but they return home better for the experience.

In the end it was not All White on the night for Ricki Herbert's side as Slovakia's win over Italy meant the Europeans sneaked into second spot.

But New Zealand finished Group F unbeaten, having drawn with defending champions Italy and a talented Paraguay team who qualified ahead of Argentina in South America.

And another resolute performance by a nation playing at only their second World Cup - the first coming in 1982 when they lost all three matches and conceded 12 goals - will have at least given the fans back home who stayed up for the 2am kick-off New Zealand time something to cheer.

New Zealand's game-plan, as it had been all along, was to keep things locked down at the back.

Their five-man defence, marshalled by Blackburn's Ryan Nelsen, was supplemented by holding midfielders Ivan Vicelich and Simon Elliot sitting just a few yards in front.

Playing for the first time in the tournament in the black shirts so synonymous with the country's rugby team, they began well.

Shane Smeltz, who attained hero status by scoring in the 1-1 draw with Italy, blazed wildly over from outside the penalty area in the fifth minute while Middlesbrough's Chris Killen was only inches away from connecting with Elliott's hanging free-kick to the far post.

When the space did open up for Paraguay Nelson Valdez overhit his cross from the left while Denis Caniza followed suit with a volley after Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz had lifted the ball over Tony Lochhead.

It said a lot about New Zealand's tactics that right-back Caniza was getting all the chances as he hit a 20-yard swerving shot over the angle of crossbar and post and then dropped a dipping drive onto the roof of Mark Paston's net.

Benfica striker Oscar Cardozo also blasted over as Paraguay finished the half on top.

New Zealand returned early after the interval and it was immediately apparent Herbert had released some of the shackles with Lochhead given more licence to get forward.

It almost paid off within three minutes of the restart when the left-back's cross deflected into the path of Elliott whose strike fizzed past Justo Villar's right-hand post.

Nelsen was booked for halting the run of former Blackburn team-mate Santa Cruz in the 57th minute but Cardozo's free-kick was disappointing.

Paston, who had been relatively untroubled, produced an instinctive save from new Sunderland midfielder Cristian Riveros' diving header as the South American's quality began to tell.

His heroics continued as he dived low to his right to parry substitute Edgar Benitez's shot and brilliantly tipped the ball away from Lucas Barrios when he seemed certain to score.

The last 10 minutes should have seen the charge of the All White Brigade but they had exerted so much energy in keeping Paraguay at bay there was little left in the tank.

But another draw ensured they finished above four-time World Cup winners Italy in third place and that does them great credit, while their opponents today finished on top of Group F.