New Zealand hold champions Italy
Defending champions Italy relied on a penalty conversion to save themselves from a famous upset as they were held to a remarkable 1-1 draw by rank outsiders New Zealand in a FIFA World Cup Group F match in Nelspruit on Sunday.
New Zealand, who had scored their first World Cup point in the 1-1 draw against Slovakia in their opening match, can still qualify for the round of 16 if they beat group toppers Paraguay -- on four points -- in their last pool match on June 24.
Four-time champions Italy, on same two points as New Zealand, will also make it to the round of 16 if they beat Slovakia in their last group match on the same day.
With three upsets already in the tournament, the Group F match at Mbombela Stadium initially shaped up to one such shock result with the All Whites took a surprise lead in the seventh minute to the stunned silence of the Azzurri fans.
Image: Italy's Giampaolo Pazzini reacts near New Zealand's Ryan Nelsen
Smeltz gives New Zealand surprise lead
New Zealand, tournament's third lowest ranked side at 78th in FIFA charts as against fifth of the Italians, took a shock lead in the seventh minute through Shane Smeltz and came close to scoring the winner after Vincenzo Iaquinta had equalised for the Azzurris via a spot kick in the 29th minute in a fast-paced free-flowing match.
Smeltz, the top scorer for New Zealand in the qualifiers, poked the ball into the net with his right foot after it was deflected from Italy captain Fabio Connavaro following a high free kick from the wide left by Simon Elliott.
Ten minutes after the New Zealand goal, Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini got his side's first scoring opportunity but his left-footer following a corner was well off the mark.
In the 22nd minute, AC Milan defender Gianluca Zambrotta's right footer from outside the New Zealand box flew just a few inches above the bar.
Image: New Zealand's Shane Smeltz celebrates scoring a goal during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match against Italy
Iaquinta equalised for Italy
It was sort of coming true of Italy coach Marcello Lippi's fears of set pieces from physically fitter New Zealand players but quickly his boys took control of the match and any thoughts of one of the most famous World Cup upsets evaporated.
Italy were denied the equaliser in the 27th minute when midfielder Riccardo Montolivo's inswinging low right footer from just outside the box hit the upright after beating the New Zealand keeper Mark Paston.
The defending champions, who fielded Federico Marchetti in place of injured number one keeper Gianluigi Buffon, though had not to wait for long as they found the equaliser in the 29th minute via a spot kick after impressive Daniele De Rossi fell down in the area with his shirt being tugged by Tommy Smith.
Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres immediately pointed to the dreaded spot and Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta stepped up to coolly send the ball to the right side of the net with New Zealand keeper Paston going the wrong way.
Image: Italy's Vincenzo Iaquinta takes the penalty kick against New Zealand
The Italians had overwhelming ball possession but...
The Italians, who wore black armbands in memory of former World Cupper defender Roberto Rosato who died today, continued from where they left in the second part of the opening session having overwhelming ball possession but failed to find too many openings.
They got their only real scoring chance of the second session in the 70th minute when Montolivo's fierce right-footer from 30 yards was brilliantly saved by New Zealand keeper Paston diving low down to his right.
New Zealand got their chance to seal the match and a possible round of 16 berth in the 83rd minute but second half substitute Chris Wood's left footer after sneaking into Italian box beat the keeper Federico Marchetti but still missed the right upright by a few inches.
Image: Italy's Gilardino fights for the ball with New Zealand's Reid during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match
We'll play the next match as if it's the final: Vera
Enrique Vera put the South Americans ahead after 27 minutes and Cristian Riveros grabbed a second four minutes from time in a game of few chances at Free State Stadium.
The win puts Paraguay on four points and leaves Slovakia with one.
"It was a great match. We scored and feel close to the round of 16. I think we can reach that. We'll play the next match as if it's the final," said Paraguay goalscorer Vera.
"It was very tough, the opposition played well but we never got desperate," added the man of the match.
Image: Paraguay's Enrique Vera celebrates after scoring a goal during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match against Slovakia
Riveros winner was a left foot drive
Paraguay had enjoyed the upper hand in the first half though Slovakia looked dangerous on the counter-attack.
Their superiority was rewarded when Vera drilled the ball home with the outside of his right foot from 12 metres after being set up by Lucas Barrios from the left.
The goal spurred the Slovaks to produce their best spell of the game and defender Kornel Salata headed over when he rose to meet a corner in the 37th minute.
Minutes later striker Roque Santa Cruz should have put Paraguay two goals clear when he latched onto a poor back pass but his shot was blocked by goalkeeper Jan Mucha.
In the second half, Slovakia's lone striker Robert Vittek was unable to get into the game and although a run by Jan Durica down the left earned a 62nd minute corner it was squandered.
Paraguay, who were tightening their control of the game and looked hungrier for the ball, secured a seond goal when Riveros hit a left foot drive for the edge of the box.
Image: Paraguay's Cristian Riveros and teammate Roque Santa Cruz react in Bloemfontein