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FIFA World Cup: New Zealand hold Italy to an embarassing 1-1 draw; Group F opens up

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vincenzo_iaquinta.jpgItaly gave the growing list of World Cup upsets another fillip today after they eked out a 1-1 draw with unfancied New Zealand in the second Group F fixture of the day. It was a major disappointment for the Azzurri; especially after Paraguay's 2-0 win over Slovakia in the earlier match took the South Americans to the top of the table. An early first half goal from Shane Smeltz was cancelled out by a penalty from Vincenzo Iaquinta after Daniele De Rossi was brought down in the box near the half hour mark.

Italy seemed to carry the momentum in the second half where just like the first; they shaded the possession quite easily. The All Whites however, defended stoutly and heroically to cling on to a draw that left Italy more than a little frustrated. The scored draw now sees Paraguay in pole position in Group F with Italy joined by New Zealand in second spot. Group F is tantalisingly poised with various permutations leaving all four teams in with a chance to book a place in the last 16.

World champions Italy  locked horns with the All Whites from New Zealand in a Group F match at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. After a tough 1-1 draw with the talented Paraguayans in their opening fixture, Marcelo Lippi's men needed a win today to keep pace with early winners of the day. Against the minnows, the Azzurri were billed to be on the ascendancy right from the word go and stamp their superior class on the World Cup minnows.

New Zealand on their part were coming on the back of a last gasp equalizer by defender Winston Reid in their opening fixture against Slovakia. However, an encore against the Italians was something even the most ardent of All Whites' fans would deem as wishful thinking. The All Whites were on the wrong end of an entertaining 4-3 result against Italy a year back in the Confederations Cup. So there were a few optimistic faces in the Kiwi camp; and going by the trends in this year's World Cup so far, the ‘favourites' are not that favoured anymore!

Italy had only one change in their squad from their opening fixture - injured first choice keeper Gianlugi Buffon being replaced by Federico Marchetti, who plies his trade for Serie A side Cagliari. The European giants fielded a 4-4-2 formation with Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta leading the line. New Zealand on the other hand, fielded an unchanged line up from their opening day match against the Slovakians, with three front men in an attacking 4-3-3 formation.

New Zealand were off to the perfect start when star striker Shane Smeltz gave them the lead as early as the 7th minute. Italian skipper Fabio Cannavaro was unable to clear the ball from a free kick and the A-League's top striker for the past two seasons was in the right place to poke the ball into the back of the net. The European side had a reason to feel aggrieved though, as replays showed that defender Winston Reid had got a slight flick in the set piece routine and Smeltz was off side at that point. The Italians upped the pace of the game visibly as they searched for a way back into the game.

Giorgio Chiellini had a chance in the 17th minute from a corner but he couldn't get a clean strike at goal while being surrounded by a posse of New Zealand bodies. The game was now being concentrated in the New Zealand half with the All Whites defending deep. Gianluca Zambrotta tried his luck with a speculative effort from outside the box in the 23rd minute and came agonisingly close to getting the equalizer. The signs were getting ominous for the All Whites and when Montolivo rattled one on the upright in the 27th minute, it looked more a matter of time before the Azzurri got the goal.

The All Whites finally succumbed minutes later when Vincenzo Iaquinta converted a penalty after Tommy Smith had pulled down Daniele De Rossi in the box. The Azzurri continued having the majority of the ball as the All Whites struggled to come to terms with the turn of events. De Rossi and Gilardino came close to getting the lead before the first half got over. There was some thinking to do in the New Zealand camp as they were inviting all the pressure and seemed resigned to their fate.

Italy started the second half with Mauro Camoranesi of Juventus and Antonio Di Natale of Udinese taking the field in place of Simon Pepe and Alberto Gilardino. Di Natale was in the thick of things straight away as his shot from a rather acute angle was easily blocked by Mark Paston in the Kiwi goal in the 49th minute. The game started to drift though with neither side threatening enough to earn a goal. Marcelo Lippi rung his final change - with a hint of desperation - around the hour mark when Sampdoria forward Giampaolo Pazzini replaced Claudio Marchisio.

New Zealand defender Ivan Vicelich almost broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute with a hammer of a shot which drifted inches wide of a diving Marchetti in the Italian goal. The pressure though was on Italy (ranked 73 places above New Zealand in the latest FIFA World rankings) to take the initiative and get a winner. Montolivo came close in the 70th minute when his rasping shot from outside the box was expertly fisted away by Paston in the All Whites' goal. Italy were in dire need of a spark of creativity as they looked to convert all their possession into a goal.

With time flying by and the Azzurri failing to get the finishing touch, another upset seemed to be in the offing. Substitute Chris Wood almost relegated the Italians to further misery when his shot skidded agonisingly wide of Marchetti's far post. Mauro Camoranesi tried his luck from distance in the 89th minute but Paston stood firm in the goal as the desperation levels in the Azzurri camp reached a crescendo. The final whistle blew soon after as Italy were relegated to an embarrassing draw against the ‘minnows' from New Zealand.

The result now makes the Group F Points Tally interesting reading. Paraguay are on top with 4 points while Italy and New Zealand are tied in second place with 2 points each, and are even on goal difference and goals scored as well. The final round of fixtures on Thursday, June 24th will see Italy taking on Slovakia and Paraguay facing New Zealand. Paraguay and Italy would still be favourites to come through the group, but should the Europeans finish second, they face the daunting task on taking on the Dutch in the Round of 16!

Teams:

Italy: Marchetti, Chiellini, Cannavaro, Criscito, Zambrotta, Montolivo, De Rossi, Marchisio (Pazzini 61'), Pepe (Camoranesi 45'), Gilardino (Di Natale 45'), Iaquinta

New Zealand: Paston, Nelsen, Smith, Reid, Vicelich (Christie 80'), Elliott, Lochhead, Bertos, Fallon (Wood 62'), Smeltz, Killen (Barron 90+2')

Italy 1-1 New Zealand
Smeltz (7')
Iaquinta (29') pen

Check out the Points Table

Also Read:

New Zealand 1 - 1 Slovakia - Match Report

Italy 1 - 1 Paraguay - Match Report

Slovakia 0 - 2 Paraguay - Match Report

File Photograph Copyright: STF Photo Agency

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