Sunday, 20 June 2010

New Zealand 1 Italy 1: Another World Cup shocker for the European superpowers

World champions Italy joined the growing list of misfiring European big guns when they were held to an incredible 1-1 draw by New Zealand in Nelspruit – and the world’s fifth best side came within inches of defeat against the 2,000-1 outsiders ranked No87 by FIFA.

The All Whites star? Mark Paston, a 33-year-old goalkeeper who failed to make it with Bradford, Walsall and Scotland’s St Johnstone when he tried to hit the big time in Britain six years ago. He managed 24 games in three seasons and went back to New Zealand, where he now dons gloves for Wellington Phoenix in the A League.

The dynamic deadlock at the impressive Mbombela Stadium was another huge blow for the so-called superpowers of Europe - 1998 champions France are on the brink of elimination in Group A, where even a win against hosts South Africa on Tuesday may not save them. Today comes news that the French boycotted training over Nicolas Anelka being sent home for insulting boss Raymond Domenech.

England and Germany both require solid wins in their final games to go through from Groups C and D. And favourites Spain were beaten 1-0 by Switzerland in their opening Group H encounter.

Now holders Italy are under huge pressure to win their final game against Slovakia at Ellis Park on Thursday. New Zealanders are locked on two points with the Azurri in the Group F table, which is topped by Paraguay, one of several South American teams looking unexpectedly strong in South Africa.

As predicted here weeks ago the Rainbow Nation, blessed with three or four different climates and vast variations in altitude, is producing the most unpredictable of World Cups.

Italy, struggling without injured pair Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, went behind after just seven minutes. Before this clash, boss Marcello Lippi had warned his side about the All Whites’ strength in the air – and when Simon Elliott’s free kick was whipped in, tall defender Winston Reid flew high to flick on. Italy’s World Cup-lifting captain Fabio Cannavaro could only deflect the ball to Shane Smeltz, who notched his 20th goal in 37 internationals past Federico Marchetti.

While the world’s most expensive goalkeeper Buffon looked on, 33-year-old Paston, cheap and cheerful, denied Riccardo Montolivo before Gianluca Zambrotta sent yet another free kick just over the bar with the superlight Jabulani ball.

Montolivo hit a post as the pressure mounted – but the equaliser when it came was highly controversial. Ipswich defender Tommy Smith challenged Daniele De Rossi for a cross – and Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres pointed to the spot.

Afterwards New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen, who earns his crust at Blackburn, said: “That was a great result for us, we fight all the way. But their goal was not a great decision.”

Smith was cautioned before Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta put the spot kick away.

Lippi made changes as he attempted to grab all three points – but it was New Zealand who nearly went ahead after half-time when Ivan Vicelich lashed a fierce volley just wide.

Paston saved from Montolivo again but at the other end, Wood waltzed past Cannavaro but put his shot just wide.

Italy’s Argentinian Camoranesi forced another decent stop from Paston but it was New Zealand who nearly snatched it when West Brom’s 18-year-old Kiwi Chris Wood put his left-foot shot just wide.

In the opening game on day nine, Paraguay – building on their opening draw against Italy – dispatched Slovakia 2-0 in Bloemfontein with Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros on the score sheet.

Paraguay defender Paulo da Silva beamed: “We played the perfect game. We scored early, we defended well and then we killed them off at just the right time. We’ve taken a very big step and we’ve almost achieved our major objective. Against New Zealand we need to go in with the same attitude if we want to win. Qualification is in our hands now.”

Neal Collins is in South Africa to complain about England's performance and promote his first novel A GAME APART. See

To see Neal at the National Arts Festival on July 4, go to

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