World Cup 2010, Italy Vs. New Zealand Preview: Azzurri Surprisingly Vulnerable To Kiwis

New Zealand was thought to be a doormat in Group F, destined for no points in a group where the other three teams have expectations of making the final sixteen. But the Kiwis used a Winston Reid, 93rd minute goal against Slovakia to become one of the surprises we relish from World Cups. While they faced no team close to the quality of Slovakia during qualifying, the All Whites raised their game and got a deserved point from a UEFA group-winner. Although it took a goal in second half stoppage time to get their result, the Kiwis were strong throughout, part of the reason you've heard few talk about them stealing a point from the Slovaks.

Italy would seem a step-up in competition, but the gap in quality between Slovakia and Italy is smaller than the same gap between real-New Zealand and the hypothetical-New Zealand we'd envisioned coming out of OFC qualifying. Where Italy's best trait against Paraguay was not talent or skill but work ethic and determination, New Zealand and Italy could turn into a very good, potentially even, match-up.

Italy could always wake-up, inherit from their legacy and raise their performance, but now a couple years into a post-2006 lull, that potential may no longer exist. Italy may be beguilingly close to New Zealand as it concerns the final product.

New Zealand, Going Forward: It's nothing fancy, especially since the All Whites' 3-4-3 is set to play more like a 3-4-2-1, leaving Rory Fallon as the only persistent presence. New Zealand is still able to support Fallon with Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen, and with six players crowding the midfield, there will be times where they'll be able to outnumber the Italians, gain possession and spring a counter attack. Still, their lack of finishing talent plus their conservative formation could leave them reliant on set pieces, something that worked fine against Slovakia.

Italy, Going Forward: The Azzurri, like New Zealand, got their only goal from a set piece, and they needed a goalkeeping blunder from Justo Villar to enable it. Though the Italians shook off a sluggish start and showed a lot of desire after going down to Paraguay, they showed little subtlety in the final third, unable to create any meaningful chances for a winner against the Paraguayans. The scary part for Italy: there is no reason why New Zealand can't similarly frustrate the Italians, and unable to count on a similar goalkeeping mistake, the defending champions could get a worse result.

That is, the Italians could get a worse result unless they find answers to their problems going forward. There has been discussion of shaking-up the Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Iaquinta combination - particularly, as it concerns getting Iaquinta in a more central, familiar position. Simone Pepe played will on the right but is the embodiment of Italy's lack of subtlety, and the defending champions still need to find a way to augment Andrew Pirlo's absence.

It's unclear how Marcello Lippi addresses these issues. His roster is limited, and its talents lack diversity as it concerns what players can do.

How The Match Turns: Italy will still be able to be opportunistic, as they were against Paraguay. New Zealand is a willing team but not a perfect one, and they will make mistakes. Italy will be able to take advantage of them and put themselves in positions where their shortcomings are irrelevant.

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