World Cup 2010: Italy vs. New Zealand

by A.D Paterson on 21/06/2010

After watching the first game The All Whites played in the group stages I thought that things couldn’t get much better – I was wrong.

To be honest I was hoping that the other group match (Paraguay vs. Slovakia) was going to be a draw, that would have meant that New Zealand could have lost to Italy and still been just one point off of second place, but Paraguay beat Slovakia quite comfortably.

The game against Italy would turn out to be a tense one, not least for some of the questionable refereeing decisions.

Here is what the BBC Sports Website had to say about the match:

Rank outsiders New Zealand pulled off one of the biggest World Cup shocks of recent tournaments by holding defending champions Italy to a memorable draw in Nelspruit.

The Azzurri pressed hard for three points in a pulsating second half, but the All Whites stood firm and could have snatched a remarkable victory had 18-year-old West Brom forward Chris Wood not guided a late left-foot shot just wide of the post.

Regardless, it still represents easily the best result in the history of a nation which still does not have a professional football league and is far better known for its daunting rugby exploits.

And Italy, sorely lacking the creativity of injured AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo, are now under real pressure to ensure an extended stay in South Africa: they must beat Slovakia on Thursday to guarantee a place in the last 16.

Should they only manage a draw, then New Zealand – 2000-1 to win the World Cup before the tournament started – could deny them with victory over Paraguay in their final Group F match.

Before this vibrant encounter at the Mbombela Stadium, Italy coach Marcello Lippi had identified New Zealand’s aerial threat as the main danger to his team – and that warning proved prophetic within just seven minutes.

Simon Elliott whipped over a curling free-kick from the left and with tall defender Winston Reid soaring highest to flick the ball on; Italy Captain Fabio Cannavaro – who lifted the ultimate prize in world football back in 2006 – could only help it into the path of Shane Smeltz.

The New Zealand striker looked significantly offside but was nerveless in prodding his 20th goal in 37 internationals past Federico Marchetti, who was deputising for Italy’s injured first-choice keeper Gianluigi Buffon.

The holders nearly hit back instantly but All Whites goalkeeper Mark Paston clawed out a dangerously bouncing Riccardo Montolivo free-kick with a posse of blue shirts waiting at close quarters to pounce on any mistake.

Italy soon set about exploiting any means they could to try and gain an advantage – Cannavaro accusing Rory Fallon of using his elbow after another sturdy challenge in the air for which the Plymouth striker was booked.

But AC Milan’s celebrated right-back Gianluca Zambrotta injected some flair into the Italian charge after 23 minutes, firing in a spectacular shot which whistled just past the top corner before Riccardo Montolivo surged forward in similar style to swerve the controversial Jabulani ball against the upright from fully 30 yards.

Italy made their pressure tell just before the half hour when Ipswich Town defender Tommy Smith conceded a penalty after tussling with Daniele De Rossi as they battled to get on the end of a cross, though the Roma midfielder seemed to tumble easily.

Referee Carlos Batres booked Smith before Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta coolly slotted home, ignoring New Zealand’s apparent attempts to match Italy’s gamesmanship by trying to delay the kick.

Italy ended the first half in the ascendency but Lippi – knowing a win was of paramount importance – was still proactive at the break, bringing on Antonio di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi for Alberto Gilardino and Simone Pepe.

After Iaquinta wasted a defence-splitting De Rossi pass in the 60th minute, Lippi again made a further change with in-form Sampdoria striker Giampaolo Pazzini replacing the ineffective Claudio Marchisio.

Despite struggling to retain possession, New Zealand nearly took an unlikely lead when Ivan Vicelich lashed a fierce volley just wide.

With play really opening up – as many matches have in the second round of group matches following cagey encounters in the first – Montolivo once more showcased his long-range abilities but again Paston proved equal to his shot by palming it away from danger as the pressure mounted.

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert soon replaced Fallon with Wood, who went so close to clinching a winning goal as he turned Cannavaro inside-out before guiding a well-struck low shot just the wrong side of the post.

The final opportunity fell to Italy as Argentine-born Camoranesi forced another decent stop from Paston – but destiny was on New Zealand’s side and, on the balance of chances if not their amount of possession, they fully deserved to take their World Cup points tally to two following their opening draw with Slovakia.

(By Chris Whyatt)

When asked about some of the decisions coach Ricki Herbert (a player when New Zealand last got to the World Cup in 1982) said: “I thought some of the decisions were quite strange.

“The nation can come to the third game with us with a chance to go through – who’d have thought it?”

When asked about the penalty given to the Italians Captain Ryan Nelson had this to say: “I think their goal wasn’t a goal. I think the guys will be disappointed that we ended up drawing because it was a dodgy goal.”

If you go on the “swings and roundabouts” principle (what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts) then this game was right to end in a draw, after all, the offside goal was cancelled out by never-should-have-been-given penalty.

Progressing to the next round is, considering the final matches in the round, still Italy’s to lose, but for a team that were expected to be the ‘whipping-boys’ of the group, they haven’t done too bad – so far.

Next up… Paraguay!

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