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FIFA World Cup: Paraguay top Group F after dull draw with New Zealand

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lucas_barrios1.jpgParaguay strolled through to the last 16 after they held out to a ‘hassle free' draw against New Zealand in the last round of Group F fixtures at the FIFA World Cup . In a match that had plenty riding on it from a qualification perspective, the two teams dished out a drab affair with neither willing to take on the game by the scruff of the neck. It was particularly surprising from the Kiwis as they needed a win to guarantee themselves a place in the next round. They however, were more worried about conceding goals and were not helped by ‘another shock win' as Slovakia edged out Italy 3-2 in a pulsating encounter at Johannesburg. Paraguay topped the group while the Slovaks finished as runners up. The latter would most likely square up against a very strong Dutch side in the last 16, while Paraguay await the winner of the match between Japan and Denmark later tonight.

The island nation of New Zealand took on the South Americans Paraguay at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane knowing all too well that a win today would have guaranteed them a place in the last 16 - a far cry from all the Pundits and naysayers who had labelled the inexperienced Kiwis as the whipping boys of Group F. Mathematically, the Kiwis could take a draw too in their stride to the last 16. Paraguay, on the other hand were the table toppers - before the start of play - and were everybody's favourites to seal their place in the next round.

Paraguay made three changes from their last match against Slovakia with Antolin Alcaraz, Carlos Bonet and Lucas Barrios replaced by Julio Cesar Caceres, Denis Caniza and Oscar Cardozo. It was a surprise though from the South Americans as Lucas Barrios' omission - in spite of his lively performances in the two group matches so far - meant that the Paraguayans hoped to utilize the pacy attacker as an impact substitute. New Zealand on the other hand, fielded an unchanged line up from their last match where they drew 1-1 with defending champions Italy.

The match was off to a scrappy start as both sides looked edgy to say the least. The first piece of notable action was in the form of a booking for Victor Caceres in the 10th minute as he caught Kiwi striker Rory Fallon's calf. The half though was not one for the lovers of the beautiful game as the Kiwis were resorting to their tried and tested game plan of absorbing all the pressure and relying on their rather nascent counter attacking prowess along with their ability to cause trouble from set pieces. Paraguay on the other hand, seemed content to pass the ball around and limit the numbers in the attacking half in order to keep their shape and play for the safe result - a draw that would have taken them through.

Denis Caniza though seemed undeterred by the Paraguayans' insistence on keeping the ball; his repeated efforts at scoring the ‘glory goal' from miles out earned him some verbal volleys from his own team mates. The South Americans got the first shot on target as Nelson Haedo Valdez had a go in the 35th minute but New Zealand keeper Mark Paston was right behind it. Cardozo then wasted the best chance of the half when he manufactured some space for himself in the 38th minute, but blazed his effort over the bar. Half time came soon and the game needed a fillip for the ‘under trial' fans and spectators alike. There was absolutely nothing to remember the half for and the Kiwis surprisingly played as if already ensured of a last 16 berth.

With Slovakia upsetting the Italian apple carts and leading at halftime; the Kiwis needed to go for the win or end up as the third placed team and let Slovakia go through. The only visible change in the second half was the fact that the island nation were committing more men in the attacking half; however, chances were still at a premium for either side. Paraguay created a great opportunity in the 62nd minute when a neat dink from Caniza was headed on target by Caceres, but Paston pulled out a top drawer save to keep the Kiwis afloat in the competition. Lucas Barrios replaced Oscar Cardozo - who had an imminently forgettable game - and blasted a shot over the bar in the 67th minute to signal his arrival.

With 15 minutes to go, the Kiwis needed only a goal to stake their claims for a place in the last 16 and hence, needed to go all out in search of the elusive winner. Mark Paston kept the islanders in the game with some inspired goalkeeping in the 76th minute when he made a double save to deny substitutes Edgar Benitez and Barrios. Paraguay were able to find space for themselves and created some late chances with 10 minutes to go. The Manchester City striker first hit a decent free kick - though straight at Paston - and then Barrios hit one wide off the mark from a great cross.

The last few minutes were a treat to savour as a goal from New Zealand would have changed the qualifying scenarios. The Kiwis however, couldn't get the elusive goal as Paraguay and the unheralded Slovakia side went through to the next round. The Kiwis were left to lament on a listless performance that cost them dearly on the night with Slovakia pulling out a surprising 3-2 win over Italy - another ‘shock result' against the Italians in the FIFA World Cup 2010.


However, with 3 points and an undefeated record, New Zealand may feel that they have written a chapter in their football history. The All Whites had only once previously appeared at the FIFA World Cup finals and had lost each of their games. They have shown that they are well capable of mixing it with the best of teams, atleast in the defensive third, and the World hopes they come calling again four years hence.

For Paraguay, it is a chance to put their legs up for a few days and scout their next opponents. The Group F winners will next be in action on Tuesday 29th June in Pretoria.


Paraguay: Villar, Caceres, Da Silva, Rodriguez, Caniza, Victor Caceres, Riveros, Valdez (Benitez 67'), Vera, Cruz, Cardozo (Barrios 66')

New Zealand: Paston, Nelsen, Smith, Reid, Vicelich, Lochhead, Elliott, Bertos, Fallon (Wood 69'), Smeltz, Killen (Brockie 79')

Final Score: Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand

Check out the Points Table

Also Read:

Italy 2-3 Slovakia Match Report

Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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