New Zealand have pulled off a sensational result to hold Italy to a 1-1 draw in the second round of the FIFA World Cup to put the defending champions in a tricky position in Group F.
The much favoured Italians threw everything at the Kiwi All Whites but a colossal display from captain and full back Nelsen and goalkeeper Paston proved just enough to keep Lippi’s men out and leave both teams sitting on 2 points in the group.
The Italians have failed to win a game all year and they found themselves coming from behind early on in this game as they had in the opener against Paraguay.
The goal came on the 7th minute when New Zealand picked up a free kick just outside the box. Elliot’s curling cross sneaked its way into the box, ricocheting off defender Cannavaro and onto the boot of Smeltz, who could hardly miss from a few yards out. The Italians will feel even more dejected watching the replay which clearly shows Smeltz was in an offside position when the ball was flicked on. But the goal stood and the game was lurched into action because of it.
The defending champions set about their comeback in typical fashion, throwing players forward and throwing themselves on the deck at the slightest whiff of a free kick. The Kiwis managed to soak up the theatrics and the pressure until the 27th minute when defender Smith was penalised for tugging De Rossi’s shirt in the box. The Italian made the most of it but the defender could not really complain about the decision.
Iaquinta stepped up to take the penalty and made no mistake, firing his team back into the game and settling Italian nerves. Indeed Italy seemed to loosen up a little after that, playing with more purpose and desire but despite their efforts they just could not break down the rigid 5 man New Zealand defence. The half finished on level pegging with the Kiwis breathing a very deep sigh of relief.
All credit to Italian manager Lippi for changing it up in the second half. The addition of Di Natale and Camoranesi gave the three times world champions some much needed width and one couldn’t help feeling sorry for the New Zealanders who were facing an uphill struggle to defend until the final whistle. Wave after wave of attack rained down on them with some stunning shots flying in from Cameronesi, Montolivo and De Rossi, who all seemed to have master the art of keeping the Jubliani ball down. But New Zealand keeper Paston was equal to all of them and the Kiwis’ ‘backs to the wall’ tactics held firm.
Despite these flurries of shots from distance the Italians never really had an absolutely clear chance on goal and in fact it was New Zealand themselves who had the best chance of the second half. 18 year old substitute Chris Wood showed real strength and skill on the edge of the box to find space for a shot that slipped just wide of the Italian post on the 89th minute.
A victory would have been even more sensational but Italy will still be a good deal dazed by this surprise result. Both teams now have it all to play for in the next game and New Zealand will rightly be thinking that they have every chance to make it through to the last 16.
Italy: Marchetti, Criscito, Chiellini, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, De Rossi, Pepe (Camoranesi, 46), Marchisio (Pazzini, 61), Montolivo, Iaquinta, Gilardino (Di Natale, 46)
New Zealand: Paston, Lochhead, Reid, Nelsen, Smith, Vicelich (Christie, 80), Elliott, Bertos, Smeltz, Killen (Barron, 90+2), Fallon Yellow card (Wood, 62)