Italy 1-1 New Zealand – Battling All Whites earn point from Azzurri

ITALY 1
Iaquinta (pen) 29

NEW ZEALAND 1
Smeltz 7

Italy were held to a frustrating draw by a superb rearguard performance by New Zealand. Vincenzo Iaquinta’s penalty levelled the scores after Shane Smeltz had scored a controversial opening goal but the Italians could find no way through the All Whites’ stubborn defence.

New Zealand took a shock lead inside seven minutes through Smeltz although the striker was clearly offside. Simon Elliott’s deep freekick was glanced on by Winston Reid and it hit Fabio Cannavaro and fell for Smeltz to poke home. Moments later, Riccardo Montolivo’s freekick at the other end had to be pushed away by Mark Paston after Cannavaro got a touch and it bounced in front of the keeper. Montolivo hit the post from 30 yards as his shot swerved back towards goal before Italy drew level after 29 minutes when Iaquinta sent Paston the wrong way from the spot. The penalty had been awarded after Tommy Smith pulled Daniele De Rossi’s shirt and the Italian midfielder went to ground in front of goal as the ball was crossed in to the area. On the stroke of half time, Paston had to get down to block a well struck shot from De Rossi.

Half time substitute Antonio Di Natale forced a save from Paston four minutes after the break, hitting a snap shot on the turn from a tight angle. Ivan Vicelich fired just wide after 63 minutes, his volley from 30 yards the closest New Zealand had come to worry Federico Marchetti since the early goal from Smeltz. It was Paston at the other end who was called upon to make an excellent save with 20 minutes left, getting a strong hand to Montolivo’s firm effort from distance. Iaquinta headed on target from a corner but Reid crucially diverted it over, then moments later Di Natale dragged a shot just wide from the edge of the area. Chris Wood came close to a famous winner with eight minutes left, beating Cannavaro before firing agonisingly wide of the far post. There was still time for one more save from Paston, pushing wide Mauro Camoranesi’s fine 35 yard effort.

Having taken a surprise lead and unsettled Italy early on, a lot of New Zealand’s impetus was lost with the 14th minute booking of Rory Fallon. It had been Fallon that had ruffled most Italian feathers by putting himself about among the Azzurri defence, but his methods were not always legal and he was cautioned for catching Cannavaro in the face with his arm. On a yellow card, Fallon had to watch his step and his challenges became more sparing, although he did run the risk of further punishment by jumping with his arms up against Chiellini 10 minutes later. The All Whites played with three forwards whose main job was to press the Italians high up the pitch whilst their remaining seven outfield players formed a barricade for Italy to attempt to break through.

Italy stuck to the same starting 11 that had underwhelmed against Paraguay but altered their system to include two strikers and a four man midfield. With Claudio Marchisio operating as one of the two wide midfielders, there was a lack of real width for Italy and it was little surprise that Marcello Lippi altered his pack again in the second half. First he brought Camoranesi and Di Natale on for the lacklustre Simone Pepe and the anonymous Alberto Gilardino, with Di Natale proving a handful roaming either side of Iaquinta. With the New Zealand defence still holding firm, Giampaolo Pazzini replaced Marchisio on the hour mark and Lippi switched to a front three, with Iaquinta and Di Natale flanking Pazzini. The change unsettled New Zealand for a while, with their packed defence finding just one central striker to play against, but still Italy could find no way through.

It was a heroic defensive effort from the whole New Zealand side but particular mentions must go to Paston, Ryan Nelsen and Smith. Having looked uncertain early on against Slovakia , Paston was a different class against the Italians, claiming balls into his box with confidence and producing several excellent saves. Nelsen was the epitome of a true captain, marshalling his defence superbly and putting key blocks in right until the last minute when he blocked a shot from Zambrotta. As the highest profile player in the squad, playing for Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, he lead by example and was a clear choice as man of the match. Smith may have conceded the penalty but he put in a storming performance for a 20-year-old, excelling in particular when Iaquinta was up against him when Italy changed to a front three.

The result leaves holders Italy needing a result in their final game against Slovakia to progress to the next round. Defeat would see the Italians crash out, whilst a draw may not be enough. At present New Zealand have an identical record to Italy, although the All Whites have the tougher remaining game against Paraguay. A win for Lippi’s side puts them through regardless of the result in the other game but the confidence of his side must be dropping with each passing game. Having looked clear favourites to win the group, they have seen Paraguay and New Zealand hold them to 1-1 draws in games they would have expected to win comfortably. At least Slovakia look less capable of the kind of defensive excellence that has seen the Azzurri frustrated so far.

Italy – Marchetti – Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito – Montolivo, De Rossi, Marchisio (Pazzini), Pepe (Camoranesi 46)- Iaquinta, Gilardino (Di Natale 46)
New Zealand – Paston – Reid, Nelsen, Smith – Bertos, Vicelich (Christie 80), Elliot, Lochhead – Killen (Barron 93), Fallon (Wood 63), Smeltz.

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