BfB Goes To The World Cup 2010 (Without leaving the front room)

That New Zealand come into this final game of the group stages not only with the chance of qualifying but with their fate in their own hands is the story of the World Cup so far. A country with not enough professional teams to hold a match were unlucky to concede against Italy and are a win over Paraguay away from progressing to the next round.

Easier written than done. While today and yesterday was about Europe’s old guard moving on to the knock out stages this match is a test of Paraguay’s metal. The South Americans have played well to beat Slovakia and claim a draw with Italy and progress to the second round which – with a win – would probably see them play either Denmark or Japan.

A win or draw would probably see Paraguay through, New Zealand need to win but the Italians – who face – Slovakia have to win to be sure of staying in the World Cup. Their task is easy with Slovakia a disappointment and like neighbours Slovenia should they not attempt to win this final game they may end up going out without making a first of attacking.

There is a sense however that the Azurei and the ageing squad are a team that beats itself with team discipline easily broken. Should Slovakia frustrate then one wonders how much patience the Italians might have.

There is a sedation to the start of the game with the Kiwis ensuring the strength of the three man back line which has put them into the position they have reached. Paraguay – who go through with a draw – are comfortable sitting back and trying to pick off any space they may find.

Neither side commit forward with Rory Fallon frustrating Denis Caniza at the back with solid defending while Shane Smeltz is close to a long cross over the Paraguay defence but the ball bounces out. As it stands New Zealand are exactly level with Italy and would draw lots to see who progressed. A goal between Slovakia and Italy would put them out even if it were equalised so while one appreciates the Kiwis caution they need a goal or the luck on a toss of a coin.

The Italians look sluggish at the back and in midfield falling second to the ball too often but the Slovakians are playing a containing game on the reigning champions who fall foul of the problems that befell England being incapable of stringing passes together when Daniele De Rossi plays a loose ball which Juraj Kucka picks off well and shaping to shoot he disguises a pass which he slides in to Róbert Vittek finishes from the edge of the box with a low shot that beats Federico Marchetti

The Italians – a rich football history but host to an Internazionale side which won the treble with no Italian players in the starting eleven for the Champions League final start to ponder the prospect of returning to Rome early. Antonio Di Natale dives on the edge of the box and is penalised by English ref Howard Webb. The Italians once again have a way to wear the mantel of Champions and – as with De Rossi’s dive against New Zealand – they do so without grace.

Powerhouse Vittek is causing problems for the Italians drifting out to the right and pressuring Domenico Criscito who seems to have no answer to the strength offered while Fabio Cannavaro is booked after a body check on Kucka. They are floundering and when Cannavaro is late on Marek Hamšík he is lucky that the Referee is used to the rough and tumble of the English Premier League. A Serie A official would have given him a second yellow card.

New Zealand need a goal now but are waiting to try to get it while Paraguay are able to coast to winning the group but the Italians hardly play with the zest of England or the USA yesterday. Gennaro Gattuso’s tackle on Zdeno Štrba end up taking a three inch gash of flesh out of the Slovakian’s knee but it is not the stuff of frantic football more just an accident of playing out the game.

Paraguay have offered very little forcing only a single save out of Mark Paston while the New Zealanders throw the odd ball forward in hope. Unless Slovakia score more and Vittek’s knock back to Hamšík has Marchetti dive head long across to try get a hand to the fierce drive that is less than a meter wide. Paraguay could let New Zealand score at the moment and they would still go through – as would New Zealand – which perhaps suggests the patten of the second half.

Italy need to score but like England with their Italian manager they need to start playing better short passes and keeping possession better while Slovakia need to score another two on the off chance the Kiwis do score.

New Zealand manager Ricki Lambert can hope that a shot by the likes of Simon Elliott – who gets the ball on the edge of the box after a determined run – might fly in but his hope is for a set play as in the previous two matches. The game is stolid in contrast to the Italians who start to press but that pressing starts to be counter productive when Ján Mucha tumbles under a Fabio Quagliarella attempt to get him to restart play quicker.

Quagliarella’s actions are hardly out of line and Mucha is diving but few will listen to Italian suggestions that they are wronged by simulation – De Rossi’s dive against New Zealand – and either way the clock ticks on as a result as frustration rises for the Azurei.

Group F: The Group of pondering.

The New Zealanders have reached something of an impasse. Attack and Paraguay have more than enough to pick at the holes they would leave, stay back too much and they goal home although they have proved capable of stealing a strike and that seems to be Lambert’s game plan.

Andrea Pirlo arrives for the Italians but his first touch takes the ball out of play. He is man brought on to give them a spark and spark they lack with four lined up across the front and Vincenzo Iaquinta employed to win knock ons. It seems a matter of time until a second Slovakian goal but the Italians come close when a corner is touched on by Mucha but falls to Quagliarella who hits a controlled shot that Martin Škrtel on the line – over the line – on the line is able to gets his right knee to and block, then clear.

An amazing clearance, but oddly not breathtaking.

The Slovakians are spurning chances – Miroslav Stoch cuts past a defender and fires wide, Hamšík should find Štrba with a through ball but fails – but they would only rue those if Italy or New Zealand score and when Hamšík plays in a low ball into the box Vittek is able to walk past Giorgio Chiellini to meet the ball and slide home.

Chiellini – so slow – standing still as a man like Vittek who has the build of The Thing steals in front of him. It is as woeful a piece of defending as the World Cup has offered and Simone Pepe’s lash down of Stoch shows the mindset now taking hold. Slovakia have won and need more goals or New Zealand to not score.

Little has happened in the Paraguay v New Zealand game and that seems to suit the South Americans who could concede and still go through. Roque Santa Cruz makes Mark Paston work from a free kick but with ten minutes left Di Natale scores for Italy and all Hell breaks loose in the back of the goal with Quagliarella and Mucha scrapping in the back of the goal and both getting yellow cards for their troubles.

All men attack now for Italy and Hamšík is robbed by Pepe who creates a chance for the offside Quagliarella who scores. It is Englishman Darren Cann on the flag denying the Italians but he seems to have got it right.

Chris Wood goes close to putting New Zealand though but his long leg is half a meter away from converting a long cross. Lambert’s hoped for chance and come and – perhaps – gone.

The Italian chance goes when Kamil Kopúnek scores with his first touch – a result of the Italians pressing for an equaliser – but the Italians pull anther back through Quagliarella and as ninety minutes ticks over in one game Paraguay have a free kick which troubles not Paston and the game finishes at 0-0.

Italy have the dying moment of injury time knowing that a single goal will put them through. Stoch dives disgracefully without contact – Webb should book him – and a long throw to the entire Italian side in the box goes over all to Pepe who weakly puts a shot wide. Added time has become smoke with Slovakia wasting more time and only the Referee knows how much longer there is to play but as the ball comes forward the whistle blows and Italy are out.

Out and bottom of a group which no one thought they would not win. The team lacked a cutting edge having ball but not chances, striking long but not getting lucky, not putting enough in in the final third to get anything out.

New Zealand – by contrast – go home proud of the achievements that saw them unbeaten with three draws but perhaps wondering what could have been with a little more enterprise especially in the final game with Paraguay. They have performed far better than expected and show the merits of ensuring that every federation has at least one team in the thirty-two but they go home having told their story but without the heroic end to that narrative.

Slovakia progress and have proven nothing more than their unpredictability. They can play well but lose the ball too frequently and have a soft centre that allowed the two late Italian goals as well as the New Zealand strike that cost the a win. In Škrtel, Vladimír Weiss and Vittek they have three useful players for a forward line but how much they have to trouble the later stages is debatable.

Going through and topping the group Paraguay who have shown their ability to contain and enough cuts and thrust to slice through the group but a solid back line could keep them out and a good attack could go through them.

This day though is for the Italians. New manager Cesare Prandelli will look for a new squad – Cannavaro, Gattuso, Gianluca Zambrotta are amongst a number of the players who will probably leave the International scene – but they have a strong youth set up and a league that has no reserve football but prizes under 21 play as a second level. Expect to hear the name Mario Balotelli by the time the next World Cup comes along.

For now though Italy join France, Serbia and Nigeria as teams expected to do better who have not and that will not sit well with a country who are used to performing far better than the class of 2010 ever managed to.

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