Africa, Sport

New Zealanders’ brave hearts hold world champions Italy to a 1:1 draw

New Zealanders’ brave hearts hold world champions Italy to a 1:1 draw

We’ve seen some pretty big upsets in the World Cup so far - Spain against Switzerland and Germany against Serbia - but this afternoon’s result must be the most astonishing of all. How on earth did a small rugby nation manage to get a point against the world champions? It would now take extreme bravery to put money on any team winning the World Cup.

Italy, as the defending champions, were officially one of the favourites to win this World Cup. We’ve seen little of that promise so far, the Azzurri only managing to eke out two points from two games. New Zealand on the other hand, a small, rugby-besotted nation that came here with absolutely nothing to lose, produced a heart-warming display of hard, defensive play.

In the run-up to this match, Marcello Lipi said New Zealand would be dangerous in the air, and how right he was. The All Whites got their first goal in the seventh minute when a free kick from distance fell to Shane Smeltz, who put it past Frederico Marchetti. It was a controversial goal, coming off Winston Reid’s head and Fabio Cannavaro, putting Smeltz in an offside position. In all fairness to the assistant referee, it was very difficult to see what was going on in that Italian penalty area.

For the rest of the match, it was almost all Italy, as wave after wave after wave of blue shirts poured into the Kiwi half. The New Zealanders defended hard, refusing to give Italy the space they needed to play their traditional pass-it-right-goal football. The Azzurri were reduced to long shots from distance. That is where the All White goalkeeper Mark Paston came into his own, putting in a brilliant performance to deny the Italians a goal. He was called upon time and again and, on every occasion, his technicality was absolutely spot on. The draw was as much about New Zealand’s rock-hard defence as it was about the goalkeeper’s excellent form.

New Zealand’s physical presence did cause him a few problems, culminating in a penalty that allowed Italy to draw even in goals.

Italy were a subdued and frustrated side, failing to find a way past the New Zealand defence. Not even the introduction of Mauro Camoranesi and Antonio De Natale could change that. They could do very little, eventually opting for crosses into the Kiwi penalty area. But that tactic didn’t work, mostly because Italy were unable to flip too many crosses from deep and, more often than not, the high balls ended up in Paston’s hands. As Italy’s frustration grew, New Zealand’s confidence grew. West Bromwich Albion striker Chris Wood, who came on for Rory Fallon, came within millimetres of producing a win for New Zealand when his shot skimmed past the Italian goal.

Even though they didn’t win, New Zealand will be extremely proud of this result, and rightly so. Italy for their part will go into their next match knowing that nothing less than a win will do.

Marcello Lipi may have made the same mistake that cost Brazil so dearly in the 2006 World Cup – relying on players who are past their prime and who, for all their experience, simply cannot match the energy and determination of younger teams.

Here are this reporter’s notes:

Team line-ups

Italy: Federico Marcheti, Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Cannavaro, Giorgio Chiellini, Domenico Criscito, Simone Pepe, Daniele De Rossi, Riccardo Montolivo, Claudio Marchisio, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Alberto Gilardino.

New Zealand: Mark Paston, Winston Reid, Ryan Nelsen, Ivan Vicelich, Tommy Smith, Rory Fallon, Leo Bertos, Simon Elliott, Tony Lochhead, Christopher Killen, Shane Smeltz.

Man of the match

Mark Paston (NZ)

First half

A biased opinion, if I may. Why is Vincenzo Iaquinta starting for Italy? His performance so far has been less than convincing.

  • 2nd minute: first corner for Italy. Pepe takes it and only finds a Kiwi defender.

Marcello Lipi did say prior to the kick-off that they would have to be careful of the New Zealander’s greater height. Set pieces were going to be a worry for his side, apparently.

Italy are wearing black arm bands in commemoration of Roberto Risarro, a former Italian defender who passed away at the age of 66.

  • 7th  minute: Oh dear, another shocker in this World Cup. New Zealand get a free kick from distance, Winston Reid flicks it towards Marchetti’s goal. Cannavaro gets a touch on it and fails to clear. Unfortunately for him,

Shane Smeltz pounced and scored. Was that or was that not an offside? Another controversial goal

Lipi was not being crazy, then.

  • 9th minute: Fabio Cannavaro delivers a very good free kick into the Kiwi penalty area, forcing Mark Paston to charge out for a save. Two excellent free kicks we’ve had in this game so far.
  • 12th minute: Italy are pouring into the Kiwi half, Zambrotta and Pepe doing the crossing. So far, none has been any good.
  • 14th  minute: Rory Fallon goes into the referee’s book for catching Cannavaro with his arm.
  • 16th minute: Giorgio Chiellini gets an opportunity to level from a corner, but makes a complete hash of the effort.
  • 22nd  minute: Gianluca Zambrotta finds some space between the backtracking Kiwi defenders and unleashes a curler that skim’s over Paston’s goal.
  • 23rd  minute: Fallon concedes another foul by flinging an elbow into Chiellini’s face. It’s a carbon copy of the offence that earned him a card, but he’s lucky not to be booked this time.
  • 25th minute: Paston intercepts a cross that, had he missed, would have fallen for Iaquinta’s outstretched boot.
  • 26th  minute: Riccardo Montolivo almost buries New Zealand again with a curving shot from distance that smacks against the left upright. New Zealand are living very dangerously at the moment.
  • 27th  minute: Tommy Smith gets a yellow card for pulling De Rossi down in the area. Penalty.
  • 28th  minute: Iaquinta takes the penalty and sends Paston the wrong way. Confidently taken, and the score is tied.

New Zealand have only been under 15 or so minutes of intense pressure, and have cracked. The mood has lifted for Italy. The Azzurri are right back in this one.

  • 31st  minute: Domenico Criscito tries his luck from distance, but the shot is too high.
  • 35th  minute: De Rossi gets a shot away. The Kiwis are allowing the Italians time and space to shoot from distance. We’ve already seen two shots that almost went in in this game.

Gianluca Zambrotta is spending more time making trouble for the Kiwi defenders down the left flank than he is defending. Not that he’s ever really been needed in Italy’s back line.

  • 39th  minute: De Rossi wins yet another free kick for Italy. Pepe’s shot is defended easily by the lanky Kiwis.
  • 41st  minute: Iaquinta chips the ball in for Pepe, but Paston gets to it first.

Iaquinta has been more influential in today’s match than he was against Paraguay.

  • 45th  minute: Zambrotta fires a low shot, which Nelson defends.
  • 45th  minute: De Rossi shoots from distance and Paston cuts the ball away. Not sure how much of the incoming shot Paston saw, but good save nonetheless.

End of first half

Italy make a few replacements in the second half. Pepe and Gilardino come off for Mauro Camoranesi and Antonio Di Natale, respectively.

  • 48th  minute: Mark Paston, finding himself in a spot of bother after Montolivo runs forward to challenge a back pass and puts it out for a throw-in.
  • 49th  minute: first attempt of the second half goes to Di Natale. Mark Paston had his angles right and deflects the shot.
  • 49th minute: Free kick to Italy. De Rossi’s shot has no venom.
  • 55th  minute: Winston Reid is in a bit of distress after colliding with a teammate. Play goes on, despite the Kiwi signalling for attention.

Italy are keeping New Zealand trapped in their own half, looking to wear them down before launching devastating runs and shot. Or so one hopes.

  • 60th  minute: Vincenzo Iaquinta manages to squeeze through the two Kiwi centre backs, but can’t direct his shot towards goal.
  • 61st  minute: Claudio Marchisio comes off for Paolo Pazzini.
  • 62nd  minute: Rory Fallon gives way for Chris Wood.
  • 63rd  minute: Ivan Vicelich comes agonisingly close to going one up on Italy after a clearing header from Fabio Cannavaro falls at his feet. His shot goes wide.
  • 64th  minute: Vicelich clears a cross intended for Camoranesi.
  • 65th  minute: more anxious moments for New Zealand as a free kick is punched away by Paston. Chiellini tries to head a cross in, but it goes awry.
  • 68th  minute: free kick to Italy after Leo Bertos brings Montolivo down. De Rossi’s free kick is too weak.
  • 69th  minute: Di Natale tries to find Iaquinta in the area, but Paston intercepts.
  • 70th  minute: Montolivo’s fierce shot is batted away by Paston, only just.
  • 76th  minute: another free kick goes Italy’s way. The free kick has too many moves in it.
  • 78th  minute: Camoranesi sets Iaquinta up for a shot. The Italian defender dallies and sees his chance denied by a Kiwi defender.
  • 79th  minute: Italy denied again as Camoranesi’s shot goes wide.
  • 79th  minute: Di Natale’s shot skims inches wide of Paston’s goalposts.
  • 80th  minute: Ivan Vicelich comes off for Jeremy Christie.
  • 81st  minute: Chiellini climbs very high to attempt a header into goal, but his shot is off target.
  • 82nd  minute: Chris Wood almost buries Italy with a shot that goes just wide of the goals. The New Zealand striker comprehensively beats Cannavaro there.
  • 85th  minute: Paston saves yet another cross into the Kiwi penalty area.

New Zealand’s fans have taken their shirts off.  They are on the cusp of something truly extraordinary.

  • 87th  minute: Ryan Nelsen gets a yellow card for delaying play.
  • 88th  minute: Mark Paston saves a shot from Camoranesi. Paston has been New Zealand’s saviour on many an occasion tonight.
  • 90th  minute: a last gasp effort by Zambrotta is blocked by Ryan Nelsen.
  • 91st  minute: Paston rises yet again to pluck a dangerous cross from the air.
  • 92nd  minute: New Zealand makes their final swop. Andy Barron comes on for Chris Killen. Barron apparently works in a bank.

End of the match.

By Sipho Hlongwane

Photo: New Zealand’s goalkeeper Mark Paston makes a save during the 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match against Italy at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit June 20, 2010. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen


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