New Zealand pulled off an astonishing 1-1 draw with Italy on Sunday that some are calling one of the greatest feats in World Cup history. Probably those who forget that the defending champs haven’t won a match yet in 2010. Still, it was an extremely impressive performance from New Zealand. I don’t know how many times I need to write it for myself to properly believe it, but I swear to Pele that just actually happened. New Zealand, which just earned its first-ever World Cup point last Tuesday. Unreal. The All Whites are ranked No. 78 in the world FIFA rankings. That’s a full 73 places lower than Italy – something that should signify an insurmountable gulf in ability and a complete walk in the park for the Azzurri. But on Sunday, it didn’t.
I guess when they said that if a World Cup came to Africa, anything could happen, they really meant it. I don’t know if it’s the Jabulani, the altitude, magical giraffes, or the vuvuzelas, but in this World Cup of 2010 absolutely anything can, and will, happen.
The glory man for the Kiwis was none other than Shane Smeltz (one of the best names of the tournament, by the way). Smeltz scored the opener in the seventh minute after a looping free kick deflected off Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro’s thigh to fall right in his path for an easy finish to send the New Zealand faithful into raptures. Bret and Jermaine from “Flight of the Conchords” must be angry because they just dropped two slots on the list of most famous people in New Zealand. Sure he was probably a smidgen offside, but this is World Cup madness here! And the All Whites absolutely earned their one point. In fact, they were possibly hard done by Italy’s penalty equalizer after an iffy decision on a Daniele De Rossi shirt pull and fall. But that won’t stop New Zealand from reveling in its ultimate football moment. Many thought that moment actually occurred last week when Winston Reid dramatically scored an equalizing header in stoppage time against Slovakia in its first game of the World Cup. But now there is no doubt that this result against Italy surpasses that and all that has come before it.
New Zealand has one scheduled game left, the final group game against Paraguay on Thursday. Like in every game of this World Cup competition, New Zealand will be heavy underdogs. But don’t be surprised to see it pull off another shocker and advance to the knockout rounds. It’s kind of what it does now.