PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – New Zealand may have lost 3-4 reigning World Champions Italy in a Pretoria but sent a clear message to their FIFA Confederations Cup rivals that they are not there to make up the numbers when the tournament starts in four days time.
In a rain soaked Super Stadium, the All Whites lead three times against a star-studded Azzurri and were in front as early as the tenth minute when Shane Smeltz rose to meet Leo Bertos’ inswinging free-kick with a header to stun an expectant crowd.
Chris Killen was equally clinical with his header from Bertos’s 42nd minute corner to reclaim the lead after Fiorintina striker Alberto Gilardino finished off classy play from Giuseppe Rossi and Fabio Quagarella with an unmarked back-post header.
Gilardino was again on the spot to equalise with a header from the cross of Liverpool fullback Andrea Dossana as Italy looked to restore normal service just three minutes after rhe break.
But normal service was an All Whites side matching the Azzuri almost pass for pass and exceeding them in passion, and it wasn’t long before the All Whites – albeit in their alternate all black strip – were back in front.
Nipping between goalkeeper and defender, Killen was brought down by the glove of Marco Amelia and made no mistake from the penalty spot. New Zealand 3, Italy 2 with 34 minutes left to play.
Marcello Lippi rang the changes bringing on Andera Pirlo, Luca Toni, and Mauro Camoranesi among six changes to avoid what would have been an embarrassing defeat, but it was another substitute, Vincenzo Iaquinta scored twice in four minutes to give the Italians their first lead of the match.
With a Confederations Cup opener against European Champions Spain on June 15 (NZT) the All Whites will head into that match and the tournament with invigorated confidence and will have caused their other group A opponents South Africa and Iraq to sit up and take notice.
New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert was disappointed not to come away with a historic upset but sill “proud and humbled” by the team’s showings.
“It’s the best performance from I’ve seen from a New Zealand team and I think it makes a real statement leading into the Confederations Cup.”
We’ve gone out there and not only scored three goals but played good football against the World Champions. It’s was a fantastic performance and it could’ve easily have been even better.
New Zealand 3 (Shane Smeltz 10, Chris Killen 42, 56-pen) Italy 4 (Alberto Gilardino 33, 48, Vicenza Iaquinta 68, 72)
Super Stadium, Pretoria
New Zealand: 12-Glen MOSS (GK), 17-David MULLIGAN, 18-Andrew BOYENS, 6-Ivan VICELICH, 3-Tony LOCHHEAD, 15-Jeremy BROCKIE (13-Andy BARRON 75), 7-Simon ELLIOTT, 8-Tim BROWN (Captain), 11-Leo BERTOS, 9-Shane SMELTZ, 10-Chris KILLEN (20-Chris WOOD 80).
Substitutes not used:1-Mark PASTON (RGK), 2-Aaron SCOTT, 4-Duncan OUGHTON, 5-Ben SIGMUND, 14-Jeremy CHRISTIE, 16-Chris JAMES, 19-Steven OLD, 21-Kris BRIGHT, 22-Jarrod SMITH, 23-James BANNATYNE (RGK).
Coach: Ricki HERBERT
Italy: 14-Marco AMELIA (GK), 2-Davide SANTON, 13-Alessandro GAMBERINI, 6-Nicola LEGROTTAGLIE, 22-Andrea DOSSENA, 8-Gennaro GATTUSO (Captain/20-Riccardo MONTOLIVO 58), 18-Angelo PALOMBO, 7-Simone PEPE (16-Mauro CAMORANESI 58), 17-Giuseppe ROSSI ( 21-Andrea PIRLO 56), 23-Fabio QUAGLIARELLA (15-Vincenzo IAQUINTA 58), 11-Alberto GILARDINO (9-Luca TONI 58),
Substitutes not used: 1-Gianluigi BUFFON (RGK), 3-Fabio GROSSO, 4-Giorgio CHIELLINI, 5-Fabio CANNAVARO, 10-Daniele DE ROSSI, 12-Morgan DE SANCTIS (GK), 19-Gianluca ZAMBROTTA, ,
Coach; Marcello LIPPI