22 Jun 2010

All Whites draw with Italy in World Cup shock

5:40 am on 22 June 2010

The New Zealand football team's draw with world champions Italy has helped put the whole Pacific region in the spotlight, says a senior football official.

The New Zealand side drew 1-1 with Italy after earlier drawing 1-1 with Slovakia in its first match in South Africa.

Deputy-secretary of the Oceania Football Confederation, Greg Larsen, says the All Whites' efforts have greatly boosted the region's profile in the game and showed that nothing is impossible.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand team's manager, Ricki Herbert, agrees it's an historic result for one of the minnows of the World Cup Football tournament.

The All Whites now have their sights firmly set on Paraguay and the chance to qualify for the second round of the football World Cup.

Italy dominated possession for most of the match and peppered the New Zealand goal but the All Whites showed dogged defence to hold on for the draw.

Shane Smeltz scored for New Zealand in the 7th minute of their group match in Nelspruit, South Africa.

Italy's Vincenzo Iaquinta levelled the score with a penalty kick at 29 minutes, after the referee gave the All Whites defender Tommy Smith a yellow card for shirt tugging.

New Zealand captain Ryan Nelsen said it was the best he's seen the All Whites play. "It was amazing effort from the lads ... wasn't pretty, but they just showed so much determination and guts."

Nelsen says the draw puts the All Whites in a strong position to advance beyond the group stage.

The All Whites face Paraguay on Friday morning and former All White Steve Woodin says New Zealand will probably need a win, not a draw to progress, because Italy is likely to beat Slovakia.

The draw puts both teams on two points in Group F, with one match remaining.

Paraguay leads the group with four points after beating Slovakia 2-0, while Slovakia is bottom of the group.

Skipper scathing of referee

Ryan Nelsen said the referee in Monday morning's match protected the Italians and the penalty he awarded them was a joke.

"I think their goal was a ridiculous call and I think the guys will be disappointed they ended up drawing 1-1 'cos it was a dodgy goal."

Nelsen said that if Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres was the best FIFA could offer he'd "hate to see the worst".

"He ruined the game," said Nelson. "Every ball that we put forward he blew the whistle before even there was contact."

Incredible result, says coach

Coach Ricki Herbert says the All Whites are "doing okay for a team who some say shouldn't be playing at this World Cup".

He said the All Whites came out on top despite the figures showing Italy dominated the match.

"Tonight for us was being able to resist those challenges and I think we did extremely well, scored well, did everything we needed to do to hang on, so it's an incredible result for us."

Shane Smeltz was full of praise for another team effort, saying every one of the team had put in hard work, which was paying off.

Prime Minister John Key, who travelled to South Africa to watch the game, says the All Whites surprised everybody and stunned the footballing world.

Mr Key says he personally congratulated the team, which showed courage and character.

New Zealand Football chair Frank Van Hattum, says the All White's draw with Italy proves New Zealand deserves its place at the World Cup.

The All Whites had an unchanged line-up from that which drew one-all with Slovakia in their opening match at the tournament in South Africa.

New Zealand are ranked 78th in the world to Italy's 5th, and many regarded the fixture as a mismatch when the draw was made.