Italy humbled by All Whites
New Zealand caused South Africa 2010’s biggest upset thus far by holding world champions Italy to a 1-1 draw at Nelspruit’s Mbombela Stadium. In the end, only a Vincenzo Iaquinta penalty prevented Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri dropping all three points as the All Whites, who took an early lead through Shane Smeltz, produced a courageous and intelligent performance to earn their second FIFA World Cup™ point.
Faced with a side ranked 74 places above them, New Zealand might have been expected to park the proverbial bus in front of Mark Paston’s goal. In fact, the opposite was true. Evidently deciding that attack represented the best form of defence, coach Ricki Herbert fielded three strikers in an adventurous line-up, and was rewarded for his boldness with the opening goal inside seven minutes. New Zealand benefited from some distinctly un-Italian defending with the Azzurri rearguard left in chaos by an inswinging Simon Elliot free-kick. The most notable culprit was Fabio Cannavaro, who inadvertently cushioned the ball into the path of a grateful Smeltz. From four yards out, all the New Zealand No9 had to do was poke the ball under the diving Federico Marchetti.
In a tournament full of upsets, it looked at this stage that a truly momentous shock was on the cards, but an Italian response was not long in arriving. They should have been level after 16 minutes, in fact, after Cannavaro knocked down Simone Pepe’s corner for the well-positioned Giorgio Chiellini, but the Juventus centre-half provided a typical defender’s finish, smashing the ball out for a throw-in on the far side.
Italy were taking a stranglehold on possession, however, and after Gianluca Zambrotta just missed out on finding the top corner from 25 yards, Riccardo Montolivo went closer still, bending a superb effort around the statuesque Paston only to see the ball rebound to safety off the inside of the post. The Azzurri players must have wondered at this stage if this simply was not going to be their day, but their luck was to change after 28 minutes when Tommy Smith was penalised for pulling down Daniele De Rossi in the box. Iaquinta stepped up to take the resultant penalty and level the scores with a perfect spot-kick low to the left of the wrong-footed Paston.
Italy might have hauled themselves level, but Lippi remained unhappy enough to make a double substitution at half-time that saw Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi enter the fray. The former, a prolific scorer in Serie A this season, nearly made an instant impact, firing in an imaginative right-foot volley that Paston could only parry clear. However, Lippi will have been hugely concerned at the relative ease with which New Zealand continued to hold his side at bay, and substitute Chris Wood came within a whisker of winning it for the Kiwis in the closing stages with a left-foot shot that slipped inches wide. Herbert’s side were certainly well worthy of a share of the spoils, and go into their final match against Paraguay with everything still to play for in Group F.