New Zealand Scare Italy In Prelude To Confederations Cup

illya mclellanSenior Analyst IJune 10, 2009

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 10: Shane Smeltz of South Africa (L) celebrates during the friendly match between Italy vs New Zealand played at Superstadium on June 10, 2009 in Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Early this morning, New Zealand time, I witnessed something I never thought I would see in my lifetime. My beloved NZ football side scoring first against the world champions.

Not only that but it was a cracking goal, from the head of target man Shane Smeltz who benefited from a beautifully weighted free kick from the cultured boot of NZ wide man Leo Bertos.

The Italians themselves were struggling to produce fluency in their play and were extremely lucky not to find themselves two down. Smeltz made the most of sloppy defending from the World Champions to get free in the area only to see his shot slide agonizingly wide of the right hand upright.

But as NZ found out in the 33rd minute, the Italians are not World Champions for nothing. Gilardino was able to slot home a header from close range to equalize after some great work on the left by Quagliarella.

Many here, including myself, thought it would be the Italians who should have had the edge from the start because of the recent end of their domestic seasons and the fact that most of the New Zealanders were still due to start their A-League campaigns.

But then up pops one of NZ's European based contingents, Chris Killen, to nod home a blasting header from a corner to put NZ in front for the second time in the match. The jubilation was plain to see and it looked as though the Kiwi's were loving every minute of walking up the tunnel at the break with the lead.

The introduction of midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo at the break showed that Marcelo Lippi was not going to take the game lightly and the Milan man immediately changed the game with the extra bit of quality the Italians had been missing.

Soon after the resumption of play, Quagliarella and Gilardino combined again to excellent effect, which resulted in the Italians equalising for the second time in the match.

The game was slowly being taken over by the stronger and more experienced Italian side when in the 57th minute, low and behold, Chris Killen was brought down in the area by Italian shot stopper Amelia and Killen duly converted the spot kick to give New Zealand the lead for the third time in the match.

This was fairy tale stuff for the New Zealand football fans everywhere. Not to mention the players themselves, who were without a doubt, loving every minute of it.

It was soon after this that Lippi introduced Iaquinta, who was to change the game with two goals.

The first came from some sloppy play by the New Zealand midfield by giving the ball away for nothing in their own defensive third. Pirlo received it and played a textbook through-ball to Iaquinta, who equalised for Italy for the third time in the match in the 68th minute.

Soon after this, the quality of the Italians really began to show and the New Zealanders lack-of-match fitness also became evident.

Ricardo Montolivo made a nice exchange of passes on the edge of the area and hit a good shot which was partially saved by NZ custodian Glen Moss. Iaquinta was unfortunately on hand to smash in the rebound and end any thoughts of some sort of upset from the hands of the south-sea minnows.

All in all, a great day for football though and one that will live long in the memory of NZ fans everywhere who are not used to seeing their footballers go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Italians.

A great experience for the NZ team and this will no doubt be a morale booster, despite the loss before Saturday's first Confederations cup group game vs. European champions Spain. It doesn't get any easier but hopefully the Antipodean outfit can turn a few heads again though the Spanish are arguably the world form team of the moment and will show no mercy to the underdogs.

A tough assignment followed by matches against South Africa and Iraq, which should be less difficult but still extremely challenging for the Kiwi's.

Italy will have to try to brush up on their defence from set plays and try to lessen the impact of tall opposition players. They were out-muscled in the air today for most of the match, which will without a doubt cause coach Lippi some concern. Certainly the USA side would have looked on at this result with some interest ahead of their opening game vs. the Italians this weekend.

New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said post match that they were aiming to take some points and goals home with them from the games they have and on the basis of this result you would fancy their chances.

After a result like this, the New Zealanders can return home with their heads held high, no matter what happens in the tournament.