Resilient Kiwis hold world champs Italy to a draw

Last Updated: Jun 20, 2010, 23:20 PM IST

Nelspruit: Defending
champions Italy relied on a penalty conversion to save
themselves from a famous upset as they were held to a
remarkable 1-1 draw by rank outsiders New Zealand in a FIFA
World Cup Group F match here on Sunday.

New Zealand, tournament`s third lowest ranked side at
78th in FIFA charts as against fifth of the Italians, took a
shock lead in the seventh minute through Shane Smeltz and came
close to scoring the winner after Vincenzo Iaquinta had
equalised for the Azzurris via a spot kick in the 29th minute
in a fast-paced free-flowing match.

New Zealand, who had scored their first World Cup point
in the 1-1 draw against Slovakia in their opening match, can
still qualify for the round of 16 if they beat group toppers
Paraguay -- on four points -- in their last pool match on June
24.

Four-time champions Italy, on same two points as New
Zealand, will also make it to the round of 16 if they beat
Slovakia in their last group match on the same day.

With three upsets already in the tournament, the Group F
match at Mbombela Stadium initially shaped up to one such
shock result with the `All Whites` took a surprise lead in the
seventh minute to the stunned silence of the Azzurri fans.

Shane Smeltz, the top scorer for New Zealand in the
qualifiers, poked the ball into the net with his right foot
after it was deflected from Italy captain Fabio Connavaro
following a high free kick from the wide left by Simon
Elliott.

It was sort of coming true of Italy coach Marcello
Lippi`s fears of set pieces from physically fitter New Zealand
players but quickly his boys took control of the match and any
thoughts of one of the most famous World Cup upsets
evaporated.

Ten minutes after the New Zealand goal, Italy defender
Giorgio Chiellini got his side`s first scoring opportunity but
his left-footer following a corner was well off the mark. In
the 22nd minute, AC Milan defender Gianluca Zambrotta`s right
footer from outside the New Zealand box flew just a few inches
above the bar.

Italy were denied the equaliser in the 27th minute when
midfielder Riccardo Montolivo`s inswinging low right footer
from just outside the box hit the upright after beating the
New Zealand keeper Mark Paston.

The defending champions, who fielded Federico Marchetti
in place of injured number one keeper Gianluigi Buffon, though
had not to wait for long as they found the equaliser in the
29th minute via a spot kick after impressive Daniele De Rossi
fell down in the area with his shirt being tugged by Tommy
Smith.

Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres immediately pointed to
the dreaded spot and Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta
stepped up to coolly send the ball to the right side of the
net with New Zealand keeper Paston going the wrong way.

The Italians, who wore black armbands in memory of former
World Cupper defender Roberto Rosato who died today, continued
from where they left in the second part of the opening session
having overwhelming ball possession but failed to find too
many openings.

They got their only real scoring chance of the second
session in the 70th minute when Montolivo`s fierce
right-footer from 30 yards was brilliantly saved by New
Zealand keeper Paston diving low down to his right.

New Zealand got their chance to seal the match and a
possible round of 16 berth in the 83rd minute but second half
substitute Chris Wood`s left footer after sneaking into
Italian box beat the keeper Federico Marchetti but still
missed the right upright by a few inches.

PTI