Tactical Breakdown – Italy 1-1 New Zealand

As results go, the Kiwi fruit of a point against the world champions defies logic, and serves as a reminder of what an unpredictable game this is. It may also placate some of the ill-feeling from England fans towards their illustrious and well-rewarded players to know that they are far from alone in terms of unexpectedly poor results. So how did this happen? And how did the shape and structure of the two sides conspire to produce this anomaly of a result?

In terms of formation, Ricky Herbert’s decision to go with three centre halves was clearly intended to create the presence of a spare man against Italy’s two forward players. Marcello Lippi’s decision to start the game with a 4-4-2 system was an offensive move by his own standards and was the work of a coach who expected to secure a clear and decisive victory. The key indicators of how the game would pan out were – would the expected Italian siege materialise and how would the All Whites cope with it? Could New Zealand gain significant spells of possession and break up the likely tidal wave? And would the Kiwis be able to mount some sort of attacking threat, likely to centre around much-travelled English League target man Rory Fallon?

The expected Azzurri dominance in terms of possession and territory was tempered somewhat by their opponents’ excellent closing down and pressing of the space in the opening period. The key when employing a pressing game is to do so early and in unison, so there are no pockets for breaking players to occupy. Herbert has his side well drilled and immensely committed, with a real team ethic to make up for their inferior quality player for player, so the admirable way in which the white shirts defended as one is unsurprising. With Italian attacks petering out, could they get Fallon to hold up the ball, give them some respite and maybe build something?

New Zealand are a powerful side, with Fallon, Winston Reid and Ryan Nelsen all providing a real aerial threat. Set plays are a great leveller, and Shane Smeltz’ (admittedly offside) goal from a long diagonal free-kick was a danger that Lippi had identified before the game. Now we really had a game on, and the presence of Nelsen and Simon Elliott in particular was going to be vital. The former to marshal the two less experienced players either side of him, and the latter to screen in front of them, put his foot on the ball, and start the moves that would give his side time to grab some air. As the period wore on, the Italian pressure mounted, and the tight pressing of the early stages diminished to the point where Riccardo Montolivo got a coconut shy at goal from range. Mark Paston was beaten but fortunately for him the post was not.

The minor disappointment among the Kiwi ranks will be the soft penalty that levelled it. Tommy Smith’s tug at Daniele De Rossi’s shirt was na


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