Nelspruit: Defending champion
Italy will meet World Cup outsider New Zealand tomorrow in a
match that should exhibit the harsh laws of nature evident in
nearby Kruger National Park.
The statistics suggest Italy will be the hunter, with New
Zealand the prey.
The Kiwis` World Cup finals record is restricted to a
single previous appearance in 1982, when the team lost all
Italy, by contrast, is among the game`s powerhouse teams.
Champions in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006, the Azzurri has won
the World Cup more than any other European team _ and is just
one title behind all-time leader Brazil.
The gulf in class is reflected in FIFA`s latest rankings.
Italy is fifth, while New Zealand is 78th, the third lowest in
Despite the weight of numbers, Italy has struggled for
form recently and it wouldn`t be the first time New Zealand
has made life difficult for Marcello Lippi`s side.
The Kiwis took the lead twice and led at half time in a
friendly in Pretoria just over a year ago as both teams warmed
up for the Confederations Cup.
Alberto Gilardino pulled Italy level just after the break
and Lippi sent on four substitutions after an hour to shake
things up. Vincenzo Iaquinta promptly scored twice to condemn
the New Zealanders to a 4-2 loss - but the warning lights had
flashed, albeit briefly.
Italy`s uninspiring 1-1 draw with Paraguay in the team`s
World Cup opener on Monday has also got fans fidgeting -
though Lippi was characteristically calm after the match.
"At a World Cup you`ve got to build belief, confidence
and condition game by game," he said. "I`ve never seen a team
start off at 100 percent and maintain that form for seven
Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini was also confident.
"We`re certainly not as behind form as everybody made us
out to be, although we still have a lot of room for
improvement," he said.
"New Zealand is a very physical team and we saw that when
we met them before the Confederations Cup. They`re dangerous
on headers, crosses and free kicks."
The All-Whites have already shown they will not be pulled
down easily in this World Cup.
Winston Reid`s headed equalizer in injury time against
Slovakia provided a mini upset to secure the national team`s
first World Cup point and leave the group deadlocked after the