New Zealand’s fairy tale continues after they hung on for an excellent 1-1 draw with world champion Italy at Nelspruit.
Several pundits called New Zealand’s draw against Slovakia the nation’s finest sporting performance.
That time it may have been hyperbole – now it isn’t.
This may not be a vintage edition of the Azzurri and the title holder was on the back foot until a debatable penalty.
The Italians always start slowly in competitions but now have to beat Slovakia. On this evidence, there’ll be no trophy this time
What’s for sure is that the 2010 version of the All Whites are their nation’s finest group of footballers.
Credit goes to Shane Smeltz, for a typical poacher’s goal, playing off the last man and sneaking in to capitalise on Fabio Cannavaro’s error.
Daniele de Rossi’s dive opened up the Kiwi backline for Vincenzo Iaquinta to equalise.
Italy dominated the closing period without inching ahead, although shots by Ivan Vicelich and substitute Chris Wood both went close.
But New Zealand held on for a second point, keeping the dream of qualification for knockout football alive.
Friday’s match against group leaders Paraguay will be just as tough as today’s game. But no one is taking the team lightly any more, and that’s definitely not the case on home soil.
One example of this is the high profile the team is receiving. Football, usually a lesser ranked sport, is big news.
The All Blacks’ rugby exploits – they’ve had their best start to a season for some time – keep the back pages. However, the All Whites boast the front pages. They are the biggest story in town.
And they still have more points than Australia....