A Bad Day For Europe: New Zealand Surprises Italy, World With 1-1 Draw

New Zealand continues to transcend pre-tournament expectations by drawing the defending champions, leaving the Kiwis and Azzurri tied for second place in South Africa's Group F.

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World Cup 2010, Italy Vs. New Zealand: Kiwis Befuddle Coverage With Not-So-Shocking Draw

While announcers on ESPN waxed and waned about New Zealand’s accomplishment, Italy’s failing in the Kiwi’s 1-1 Sunday draw with the defending champions, the coverage team seemed to lose sense of time, space – context – of this result.

Shane Smeltz put New Zealand ahead in the seventh minute, converting a set piece, and Vincenzo Iaquinta equalized in the 29th minute from the spot to cap the scoring. Over the next hour, Italy would dominate possession and shot statistics but leave the threatening chances to Ivan Vicelich and Chris Wood. The match ended drawn, and when it did the coverage started playing-up the impossible nature of the result.

Impossible is my word, not theirs. It’s just the feeling I got from the tones of Ian Darke, Ally McCoist, and Bob Ley. New Zealand drawing Italy is a huge upset, they tell us, and maybe it was because the same people who served us that post-match reaction crafter the pre-match expectations, those of an Italy team who would walk through New Zealand. McCoist even called the draw a bigger surprise than Switzerland beating a European Champion-side who have only been beaten once in the preceding 48 matches.

Perhaps this judgement reflects Switzerland’s geography more than New Zealand’s perceived talent.

Had this result happened last week, in the first round of the tournament, then such reactions would be a little more justifiable. I also didn’t give New Zealand much of a chance in this tournament, having only seen them play against the like of Bahrain in competitive matches during this qualifying cycle. However, after Group F’s first matches – seeing New Zealand play well against Slovakia and Italy unable to manufacture scoring chances against Paraguay – it was no stretch to suggest New Zealand could get a result.

And that is exactly what happened, and although it is the best result in New Zealand soccer history, it should not be the earth-shaking event for the sport that it’s being portrayed to be. Perhaps that hyperbole was for entertainment value, but perhaps it was patronizing an audience that expects the coverage to exalt the virtues of the traditional powers. If anything, after ten days of a World Cup that has shown the accessibility of traditional powers like Brazil (vs. North Korea), Germany (vs. Ghana), Spain, the Netherlands (vs. Denmark, Japan), England (vs. the United States, Algeria), France (vs. Uruguay, Mexico) and even Italy (vs. Paraguay), this result should be discussed in terms of the rule, not the exception.

And as noted on the broadcast, this traditional power has not won a match in 2010. They have struggled since qualifying for the 2008 European Championships, and a series of players (Cannavoro, Zambrotta, Iaquinta, amongst others) have had indifferent club seasons. The Azzurri were also missing Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon.

There is a way to play-up this result without being trite (and inaccurate) by persisting with the insistence that Italy was performing like a top team. Speak to the Azzurri legacy, contrast that with New Zealand’s thin international soccer history book, and use that information to augment the in-the-moment story lines: New Zealand continues to be better than thought while Italy persists with the problems we’ve seen for years, reflecting a soccer world where the minnows are taking bites out of the powers.

That is, after all, what happened today.

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World Cup 2010, Italy vs. New Zealand: Vincenzo Iaquinta Penalty Conversion Pulls Italy Even

Vincenzo Iaquinta calmly buried a 29th minute penalty kick, awarded after defender Tommy Smith pulled down Daniele de Rossi in the six yard box, pulling Italy even with the All Whites, 1-1.

The penalty was called when Smith pulled de Rossi to the ground, the midfielder going far post for a cross.  Smith's left hand had a fist-full of jersey, earning him a yellow card when the Italian went to ground.

Iaquinta's confident finish into the right side of goal gave Mark Paston, who dove left, no chance, equalizing Shame Smeltz's 7th minute opener.

Italy has had 72 percent of possession in the first 30 minutes, out-shooting New Zealand 9-1.

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World Cup 2010, Italy Vs. New Zealand: Shane Smeltz Puts All Whites Up In 7th Minute

New Zealand has gone ahead of the world champions, the first time in their World Cup history that they've been ahead in a match.

New Zealand's only other World Cup appearance was in 1982, when they eliminated after three matches.  A 93rd minute goal against Slovakia gave New Zealand a draw to open this competition, but it was only after Shane Smeltz flicked home a seventh minut dead ball play against Italy that the Kiwis were ahead for the first time in their World Cup history.

The goal came when a set piece was played from 35 yards out on the left flank, with defender Winston Reid flicking a ball against the chest of defender Fabio Cannavaro.  The ball fell to Shane Smeltz behind the defense who flicked a right footed shot past Federico Marchetti for the opening goal.

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