Paraguay's Victor Caceres, centre, teammate Julio Cesar Caceres and New Zealand's Leo Bertos compete for the ball. ((Luca Bruno/Associated Press))

Paraguay moved into the round of 16 at the World Cup for the fourth time in its history Thursday after being held to an uneventful 0-0 draw by New Zealand.

Neither team created many scoring chances despite displaying more urgency after the break following a turgid first half at Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa.

Paraguay finished with five points in Group F, two more than New Zealand -- which was eliminated after Slovakia beat Italy 3-2 in the other group game to advance.

Paraguay substitute Edgar Benitez sent a low shot that was saved by goalkeeper Mark Paston in the 76th minute in the best chance of the match.

Teammate Cristian Riveros headed straight at Paston from a short corner in the 64th in the only other chance of note.

Playing in only its second World Cup -- having lost all three matches in 1982 -- New Zealand came into the match after 1-1 draws with Slovakia and then defending champion Italy, a team ranked 73 places above the Kiwis.

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert, who played in that 1982 tournament, made no changes from Sunday's match against Italy in Nelspruit.

Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino made three changes to the team that beat Slovakia 2-0 in Bloemfontein. Forward Oscar Cardozo came in for Lucas Barrios, and defenders Denis Caniza and Julio Cesar Caceres replaced Carlos Bonet and Anatolin Alcaraz.

In the two teams' only previous meeting, Paraguay beat New Zealand 3-2 in a 1995 friendly played in Chile.

Both teams started cautiously and had trouble finding their targets with long-range passes on the fast and bouncy surface, which is a hybrid of natural and synthetic grass.

New Zealand's 3-4-3 formation gave the Kiwis a player advantage in midfield with Paraguay lining up in a fluid 4-3-3. But the willingness of Nelson Valdez, Enrique Vera, Claudio Morel and Caniza to alternate in staying close to the sidelines opened up enough room in the middle for the South Americans' slick interchange passing.

Caniza, making his first appearance at the tournament to become the first Paraguayan to play in four World Cups, went close in the 19th minute. He struck an angled 25-yard shot first time only for the ball to fly high and wide.

Ten minutes later, Caniza sent another long-range strike over the crossbar as Paraguay's superior technique gradually took control over New Zealand's more direct style, although without threatening to create any clear chances inside the box.

Valdez forced Mark Paston into making a comfortable save in the 35th, striking a low shot from 30 yards straight at the goalkeeper.

Leo Bertos was lively on the right flank for New Zealand but any attempts to find target man Rory Fallon with deep crosses were inevitably too close to Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar.

Paraguay was unhappy at several first-half aerial challenges, yet the only two yellow cards shown by Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura were to its players, Caceres and Roque Santa Cruz.

With Italy trailing 1-0 to Slovakia at halftime in the other group game, New Zealand started the second half more purposefully. An error from Caniza allowed New Zealand midfielder Simon Elliott to shoot wastefully wide from the edge of the area in the 48th.

Paraguay midfielder Cristian Riveros headed straight at Paston from inside the box after a move from a short corner in the 64th.

New Zealand lifted as the clock wound down, perhaps as a result of news coming through that Slovakia had increased its lead to 2-0. The Kiwis' need to chase a goal opened up space in their defence, and Paston was required to make several quality saves.

New Zealand substitute Chris Wood couldn't get on the end of Shane Smeltz's cross in the 87th, but the offside flag had been raised in any case.

The Kiwis kept two defenders at the back and sent everyone else forward in desperate search of the goal that would keep them in the tournament, but Paraguay's ragged defence held firm.