The meaning of a World Cup draw couldn’t be more opposite than in Italy's 1-1 tie with New Zealand on Sunday in Nelspruit, South Africa.
For the Azzurri, the one point was depressing. For the Kiwis, it was historic.
Defending champion Italy had to rally to get the draw in the latest World Cup stunner. With two successive ties, the 78th-ranked All Whites are in position to advance to the second round if they can beat Paraguay on Thursday. The Italians will move on from Group F if they beat Slovakia.
“I think that stopped the nation,” New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said. “It’s the most incredible result we’ve had across the board. As a football coach, it’s way above anything we’ve achieved in the history of the game. … At the World Cup anything is possible – we’ve seen some strange results – but nothing as big as that one.”
Or as small if you have an Italian perspective.
New Zealand took the lead seven minutes in when Italy’s 36-year-old captain Fabio Cannavaro made a horrendous error, handing a goal to Shane Smeltz. A long free kick from Simon Elliott sailed deep into Italy’s area, off Cannavaro’s hip as he fell and directly toward the waiting Smeltz for the tap-in.
It was New Zealand’s only shot on goal in the match.
Riccardo Montolivo hit the goalpost for Italy in the 27th, then Vincenzo Iaquinta equalized two minutes later with a penalty kick. Tommy Smith was given a yellow card for tugging down Daniele De Rossi inside the area on a corner kick.
Iaquinta appeared to celebrate as if he were blowing a vuvuzela.
“We’ve got to keep our heads up and move on,” he said.
At the final whistle, however, the celebration was located in one corner of the Mbombela Stadium, where a small section of New Zealand fans marked their country’s transcendent result by taking off their shirts and waving them around deliriously.
“I’m very, very proud,” Herbert said. “We knew we’d be up against it, but we had great resilience and stayed organized.”
Playing in only its second World Cup – having lost all three of its matches in 1982 – the Kiwis gained a point for the second consecutive game after also drawing 1-1 with Slovakia in their opener.
Long after the game ended, New Zealand fans remained inside the stadium, moving down to the lower level to continue celebrating, waving flags and blowing on vuvuzelas as the All Whites reserves played a training match.
Keeper Mark Paston was virtually flawless, preserving the draw with a leaping save on a long, powerful shot by Montolivo in the 70th.
Italy controlled virtually throughout the match, but New Zealand nearly won when substitute Chris Wood sent an angled shot just wide in the 83rd minute.
“This is the best result since I’ve been involved,” said New Zealand forward Chris Killen. “It was a great achievement tonight. Every one of us got cramped.”
Brazil 3, Ivory Coast 1: Luis Fabiano scored a pair of goals, and Elano added another as Brazil secured a spot in the second round by winning in Johannesburg.
Fabiano scored his first goal in six matches for Brazil with a powerful right-footed shot in the 25th minute after a perfect pass by Kaka between defenders. He jumped over defender Kolo Toure before firing into the top of the net from a difficult angle.
Fabiano added to the lead in the 50th with his left foot from near the penalty spot after beating two defenders inside the area. Replays showed him handling the ball twice before scoring.
Elano scored Brazil’s third goal in the 62nd after another setup by Kaka. Elano hurt his right shin a little later and left the field on a stretcher.
Kaka received two yellow cards late in the game and will be suspended for Brazil’s next match, against Portugal.
Didier Drogba scored the lone goal for Ivory Coast with a header in the 79th, the first time an African nation scored a goal against Brazil in the World Cup.
Paraguay 2, Slovakia 0: Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros scored and Paraguay beat Slovakia in Bloemfontein.
Playing with a three-man front line spearheaded by Roque Santa Cruz, Paraguay controlled the tempo from the start.
Playing in its first major tournament since the former Czechoslovakia divided in 1993, Slovakia looked outclassed and unsure of itself facing a big, physical Paraguayan team that beat both Argentina and Brazil in World Cup qualifying matches.