Kiwis shock Italy with draw
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
New Zealand goalkeeper Mark Paston makes a save during against Italy. (REUTERS/Howard Burditt)
NELSPRUIT - It was a shocking result.
New Zealand, the lowest-ranked team in this World Cup (78th in the world), just held the defending world champ Italians to a draw.
The result means Italy must win in their last game against Slovakia to guarantee passage to the next round.
It was a great feat of survival by the Kiwis. The Italians attacked New Zealand from every angle and every position on the field Sunday and in the end all they had to show for it was a 1-1 draw.
Even if Italy qualifies, it must find someone who can score consistently if it wants to threaten in this World Cup.
The Kiwis earned their second point in the group, a fantastic result. The Italians were looking to impose their will, hoping to establish their strength in this tournament, something they haven't done yet.
It was a much better Italian performance than their opening-game draw with Paraguay.
Italy was active and pushed the ball around the park with authority.
But its forwards can't finish. There were a lot of chances that went begging.
"We didn't get a lot of luck but we didn't create much either," said Italian manager Marcello Lippi. "This is the second time that our opponents have put a ball in the box and we've conceded a goal. After that happened, we pulled ourselves together and put everything into attacking. The players didn't lack desire, just clear-headedness. We now have to win the last match and roll up our sleeves because we have no intention of going home."
With Paraguay defeating Slovakia 2-0, the Italians knew they would have to win to keep pace in Group F.
They had New Zealand on the rack several times in the game and pounded away at Kiwi goalkeeper Mark Paston.
But somehow bad finishing, good luck and good goaltending kept the Kiwis in the game.
The Italians haven't given up many chances in this tournament. But Paraguay scored on the only chance it had; New Zealand scored in the seventh minute on the only chance it created.
A free kick from a long way out by Simon Elliott somehow found its way to the top of the six-yard box. Fabio Cannavaro attempted to clear it, but couldn't get to it. Shane Smeltz jabbed it into the net under Federico Marchetti.
Marchetti was starting in place of injured No. 1 Gianluigi Buffon. It was the one area of concern Italy had to deal with. New Zealand forwards are big and powerful in the air.
But it was difficult for the Kiwis to replicate the feat because they never had the ball for the rest of the game. From that point on, the Italians attacked and finally earned a penalty when Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi was dragged down in the box. The penalty was converted by Vincenzo Iaquinta.
"We'll have to improve quickly, because otherwise we won't be going far," said De Rossi. "We weren't at our best and we can do a lot better than that. It's not a problem with our forwards, it's the whole team that didn't play well."
De Rossi, Simone Pepe and Gianluca Zambrotta were the best Italians on the pitch but they have to be waiting with great anticipation for midfielder Andrea Pirlo to return against Slovakia.
The Kiwis were floating about the result.
While the Italians were abysmal with their finishing, New Zealand deserve credit for a gutsy performance.
"Our entire country, which numbers four million inhabitants, came to a stop to watch our performance," said New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert. "It's an incredible result for football in New Zealand. It's historic and greater than anything else we've ever achieved when you consider the standing of our opponents. From now on, everything is possible . . ."
Those possibilities include some of the top teams in the world, including the defending champions, embarrassed with an early trip home.