Italy coach Marcello Lippi has bemoaned Italy’s lack of cutting edge in decisive moments for his team’s downfall after a disappointing 1-1 draw against minnows New Zealand in the beautiful Mbombela Stadium.
“We didn’t have much luck.” said Lippi.
“But we didn’t play a great game. The side played with great desire, but we were lacking the cutting edge in certain moments.”
The Italian looked on in disbelief from the sideline as his side struggled to break down the resilient All Whites, who like Italy, are still unbeaten in the competition and are well in contention for qualification to the knockout phase come the third round of matches.
Shane Smeltz, once of Halifax Town and AFC Wimbledon stunned The Azzurri as he converted Wiston Reid’s set piece after just seven minutes. Italian Legend Fabio Cannavaro could only watch on as the 28 year old composed himself to tuck the ball past Gianluigi Buffon’s deputy Federico Marchetti.
The islanders showed a huge amount of grit and determination as they pressed their superstar counterparts all over the field. Ryan Nelsen was a rock in the centre of defence as he dealt with the presence of Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino for the majority of the first half. Riccardo Montolivo nearly scored the goal of the tournament as he let fly from thirty odd yards as the Jabulani worked its unpredictable nature as it swung inwards towards the Kiwis goal only to rattle the foot of the post. It was a wonderful effort from the Fiorentina man.
New Zealand were struggling with the pace of the game at times and did their utmost to try and slow down proceedings. The first half was blighted with bookings and fouls and the Champions disliked the aggression of their opponents.
Italy did see their persistence pay off as Danielle De Rossi won a penalty just before the half hour mark. Referee Carlos Batres had no doubts as he spotted Tommy Smith tug at the Roma stars shirt. Iaquinta was the man to step up from twelve yards and coolly convert his spot kick. A contender for one of the celebrations of the tournament followed as De Rossi emulated the use of a vuvuzela by mimicking the Juventus man’s nose.
It was an achievement in itself for the Kiwis as they made it to the half-time interval at one a piece. Ricki Herbert’s team have showed desire in abundance which was also evident against Slovakia as they pinched an equaliser in the dying embers of the game.
Antonio di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi came on as a double like for like substitution for the Italians in place of Alberto Gilardino and the lively Simone Pepe. Italy continued with their same vain in the second period as they were unable to take advantage of their dominance. They pressed and pressed New Zealand but they lacked that creative sparkle to unhinge a resolute defence commanded by their inspiring skipper Ryan Nelsen. He was a colossus in the heart of the Kiwis defence obstructing his opposition.
The presence of Andrea Pirlo is clearly missed in the heart of Italy’s midfield. His wide range of attributes can produce a moment of genius for a match winning moment. The AC Milan star has sat out the opening two games due to a long term calf injury which has been hampering the team’s preparation. Lippi has hinted that the 31 year old may be called upon for the final game against Slovakia.
“I hope he can give us a hand. He is a great player, but at the moment, he isn’t ready.” stated Lippi.
New Zealand held on till the end as they resisted all the pressure that was thrown against them throughout the second half. It is a magnificent achievement for a side ranked 78th in the world who even brought on a semi-professional player in stoppage time by the name Andy Barron. A banker who works in Wellington who had to ask for time off work in order to play in the FIFA World Cup. How fantastic as football continues to showcase its fairytale moments.
The Kiwis are in with a fighting chance of qualification to the last sixteen. Ricki Herbert’s team had been labelled as a side who were only in South Africa for a cameo appearance, but how they’ve silenced their doubters. The minnows now come up against Paraguay in the last game where a victory would guarantee their passage through to the holy grail of footballs biggest knockout tournament. Their courage and determination has been nothing short of admirable during this tournament.
Italy on the other hand will have to put this result to one side and focus on the task in hand. They will have to beat Slovakia on Thursday to guarantee their qualification. A defeat would see them eliminated. They are struggling for form and haven’t won a single game this calendar year but they have their fate in their own hands. Marcello Lippi is as experienced as they come and he will do his utmost to prevent the unimaginable scenario of his team bowing out with a whimper as World Champions.