World Champions Italy struggled to a 1-1 draw against minnow opposition New Zealand in Nelspruit on Sunday, leaving their chances of reaching the last 16 hanging in the balance.
Once again the Azzurri were slow out of the traps and after just six minutes, New Zealand were in front. A free-kick was swung into the box and found its way to Smeltz at the far post, who duely converted the ball past the stand-in keeper Federico Marchetti; the goal standing despite the striker seemingly being a yard offside.
This however proved to be a wake up call for the Italians, who soon trapped New Zealand inside their own half, creating numerous chances but failing to take advantage. The most noteable chance fell to Ricardo Montolivo on 27 minutes, his long range drive striking the foot of the right-hand post. The New Zealand resistance was finally broken moments later when defender Tommy Smith brought down Daniele De Rossi inside the area; De Rossi’s dramatic reaction no doubt swaying the referee to award a much needed penalty for Italy. In form striker Vincenzo Iaquinta cooly dispatched the spot kick, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to restore parity as well as relief going into the break.
A second goal looked on the cards for the favourites as they continued to huff and puff in the second half, but it was not to be, despite Lippi’s best attempt to grind out three points, throwing on both Di Natale and Camoranesi. Iaquinta’s late last ditch effort was heroicly blocked by the All-Whites’ Winston Reid and moments later their prayers for the sound of the final whistle were answered.
Although the game was dominated by Italy in the attacking third, a point seemed a fair reward for New Zealand’s determined defending. Italy need Pirlo back as soon as possible. “We hope he will be back for the Slovakia game, but we cannot be 100% certain,” manager Marcello Lippi said. “We have to win that game now, there is no other way around it, because we do not want to go home.” Italy’s third and final group games sees them travel to Ellis Park on Thursday in a crucial win or bust game against contenders Slovakia.
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