Vuvuzela Rating – 6.7 Co-ordinated Blasts.
This game will have been highlighted as one of the bankers of the tournament in many people’s minds. Even with the injury to maverick first choice goalkeeper Buffon, Italy expects a result, and an impressive one at that. Under fire boss Marcelo Lippi keen to recreate the kind of performance that saw the Italians lift the trophy in 2006. Meanwhile, New Zealand will feel like simply participating in this game is a victory in itself, safe in the knowledge that all the pressure is on their opponents.
The game sprang to life almost immediately; a free kick was given against textbook baldy Pepe for a foul on Rory Fallon. The ball was whipped in and was flicked on to comically named Shane Smeltz, who poked the ball under the onrushing Federico Marchetti. Replays revealed Smeltz was a whole 12 yards offside, and the assistant referee was in fact, chatting up a particularly attractive New Zealand fan in the front row at the time the free kick was taken and therefore missed the infringement.
After that stunning opener the only noise audible above the incessant Vuvuzela blasts was the jangling of Italian nerves around the Mbombela Stadium. After a long ball forward Rory Fallon did his best to slap Fabio Cannavaro to the floor and earned himself a yellow card for his efforts. Not surprisingly the Italians seemed anxious to get back on level terms quickly, but their efforts were wayward in the opening spell. Giorgio Chiellini winning the worst attempt of the tournament so far award, smashing a shot so far wide it went out for a throw in. Meanwhile Rory Fallon continued his assault on the Italian centre back partnership of Chiellini and Cannavaro, lodging his elbow into the throat of the former, and receiving a final warning. The game was a fiery one, with both sides showing off their impressive cage fighting potential.
The Italians continued to press forward, with Montolivo hitting the post from a long range drive. Moments later Tommy Smith brushed the shirt of Daniele De Rossi inside the New Zealand area and conceded a penalty, the Italian striker earning himself an Oscar nomination in the process of going down. Vicento Iaquinta stepped up and after a long wait, slotted the ball right into the bottom corner to bring Italy back onto level terms once more. Meanwhile, Fallon was seen putting on boxing gloves which he retrieved from the dugout ready for his next bout with Cannavaro. Although Italy looked more likely to score a second, New Zealand made it through to half time and had the chance to regroup whilst still level.
Italy brought on Di Natalie and Camoranesi at half time to freshen up their attacking threat. New Zealand looked a lot more composed after the break, looking to not only hold onto the ball but to launch attacks of their own. Some things never change though, Fallon being consistently penalised for fouls on the theatrical Italians, who had clearly targeted the already yellow carded big man. A point to which the New Zealand coaches were more than aware, as the Plymouth forward continued to grind his teeth and crack his knuckles. After an hour Fallon was substituted for Chris Wood, the West Bromwich Albion forward giving the ancient Cannavaro a change of wrestling opponent.
New Zealand continued to defend stoutly, as they successfully dealt with a barrage of Italian corners. Chris Coleman on ITV spending a whole 5 minutes non-stop explaining the topic but refusing to use the words “park the bus”. At the other end, on a rare foray forward for New Zealand, Giorgio Chiellini attempted the Valcun death grip on Winston Reid, leaving the Maori defender motionless on the turf for several minutes while the Italians carried on regardless. The minutes continued to tick away and The Azzurri fans become more and more restless, Smith and Reid continuing to rebuff the Italian attacks. At the other end, with only 8 minutes left, Chris Wood left Cannavaro for dead and smashed a vicious shot just wide, proof that New Zealand carry an attacking threat themselves at times. A scare that left Lippi and Cannavaro, who have a combined age of 241, very red faced indeed.
Ryan Nelson went down nursing a bout of cramp and was promptly booked by the referee Carlos Batres, the official explaining that in Guatemala, they do not believe in cramp. Eventually Nelson limped back onto the field and continued to throw himself in front of every Italian shot and cross. 4 minutes of additional time was shown and New Zealand supporters began to chew at their fingertips after disposing of all their fingernails in the previous 90. But they need not have worried, the minutes slipped by and New Zealand had secured their second draw of the World Cup. A fantastic display from team ranked 78th in the world and a game Italy will want to forget pretty quickly.
Match Statistics (Powered by Optajoke)
12 – Vincento Iaquinta was forced to wait a full 12 minutes before beginning his penalty run up. Delay.
3 – Research has revealed that any breeze over 3mph renders an Italian striker “structurally compromised”. Fragile.
33 – New Zealand conceded a total of 33 corners during the game, a new world cup record for one team. Defence.