Oliver Neuville came to Germany's rescue as his deftly executed volley two minutes from time guided Rudi Voeller's side into the quarter-finals at the expense of Paraguay.
The Bayer Leverkusen player's ability to arrive at the right time in the box proved decisive for a German team that struggled to overcome a cautious Paraguay side.
With the game seemingly moving towards extra-time, Neuville swept home Bernd Schneider's cross from the right.
Three times champions Germany will now face the winners of the game between the Mexico and the United States in Ulsan.
Knocked out in the last 16 stage by France four years ago by a golden goal, Paraguay once again experienced World Cup heartache.
After Neuville's goal, Maldini threw on Nelson Cuevas, the man whose two goals against Slovenia guided Paraguay into the last 16.
Our goal has been to reach the
semi-finals. We have to maintain our modesty now
German coach Rudi Voeller
But the River Plate had little chance to make any impact in those closing few moments
Paraguay's misery was also compounded by the late dismissal of Roberto Acuna for his challenge on Michael Ballack.
After the greatest opening round in World Cup history, the first knockout game of the tournament failed to live up to the adventurous spirit of the past two weeks.
As if gripped by paralysis, neither side were able to take control of the game, frequently and nervously conceding possession.
After an opening half where both sides seemed to be sleepwalking, at least the second half saw both sides manage to rise themselves from their slumber.
For Germany that was partly due to the introduction of Sebastian Kehl who was able to distribute the ball more efficiently from defence.
As Germany picked up the tempo after the restart, Schneider latched on to Neuville's cross and forced a smart save from Jose Luis Chilavert.
Roque Santa Cruz played for less than 30 minutes
Then Jorge Campos scampered down the left and unleashed a shot that tested Oliver Kahn's reactions.
Just past the hour Neuville broke in from the left and hit a swerving shot that Chilavert had to scuttle across his line to hold.
Schneider then intelligently released Torsten Frings, but the defender fluffed his shot.
Campos had drawn the best save from Kahn in that insipid opening half when the Paraguayan's curling shot forced the German keeper to tip the ball over the bar athletically.
In those early stages Paraguay were happy to sit back and let Germany dictate the pace of the game.
Germany once again looked to Ballack, who had recovered from a stiff left calf muscle, to pull the strings in midfield.
Yet when the ball landed in the box Germany, who had scored 11 goals in their group qualifying round, lacked the required poise, with Jens Jeremies, Marco Bode and Miroslav Klose all guilty of some wild finishing.
Paraguayan coach Cesare Maldini had to shuffle his attacking pack when Roque Santa Cruz limped off just before the half-hour.
The Bayern Munich striker's departure saw Paraguay begin to impose themselves on the game with their best chance falling to Celso Ayala, who volleyed widely over with just Oliver Kahn to beat.
Germany: Kahn, Linke, Metzelder (Baumann 60), Frings,
Rehmer (Kehl 46), Ballack, Jeremies, Schneider,
Neuville (Asamoah 90), Bode, Klose.
Subs Not Used: Bierhoff, Bohme, Butt, Jancker, Lehmann, Ricken.
Booked: Schneider, Baumann, Ballack.
Paraguay: Chilavert, Caniza, Arce, Gamarra, Ayala,
Struway (Cuevas 90), Acuna, Bonet (Gavilan 84), Caceres,
Santa Cruz (Campos 29), Cardozo.
Subs Not Used: Alvarenga, Baez, Franco, Morinigo, Sanabria, Sarabia, Tavarelli, Villar.
Sent Off: Acuna (90).
Booked: Acuna, Cardozo.
Referee: C Batres (Guatemala).
OFFICIAL MATCH STATS |
| Germany | Paraguay |
Goals | 1 | 0 |
Shots on goal | 20 | 9 |
Shots on target | 6 | 3 |
Fouls committed | 13 | 25 |
Corner kicks | 5 | 1 |
Penalty kicks | 0 | 0 |
Caught offside | 1 | 7 |
Own goals | 0 | 0 |
Yellow cards | 3 | 2 |
Red cards | 0 | 1 |
Ball possession (%) | 57 | 43 |
ACTUAL PLAYING TIME | |
First half - 24 mins | Second half - 18 mins |