New Zealand-Italy Preview
Italy continues to have trouble scoring, but the defending world champions could be facing the right opponent to rectify that problem - albeit one that may be dangerous.
All four teams are tied atop Group F, and Italy will try to notch its first victory when it takes on New Zealand in Nelspruit on Sunday.
The first two matches in this group ended in draws, with Italy rallying to get a point against Paraguay on midfielder Daniele De Rossi's second-half equalizer Monday.
The poor offensive showing continued a disturbing trend. In Italy's last six games, it has scored four goals and only one of those was by a forward - Fabio Quagliarella in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in a pre-World Cup friendly.
"We're lacking a bit of everything," De Rossi said. "A bit more nastiness would certainly help. The ball has been skidding away and it hasn't been easy to complete that last pass. But we can definitely improve."
Tuesday's result left Group F up for grabs. New Zealand scored its first goal in World Cup history when Winston Reid headed in a dramatic equalizer in second-half stoppage time in a draw with Slovakia, setting off a wild celebration by the All Whites.
"It probably was the most important goal of my life," Reid said. "I didn't see the ball until late. I knew that if I got it on target and didn't hit it too hard, I could just guide it in."
This is the second meeting between these teams after a thriller in South Africa last year before the Confederations Cup. Italy rallied three times for a 4-3 victory.
Vincenzo Iaquinta and substitute Alberto Gilardino each scored twice for Italy while Chris Killen had two goals for New Zealand.
The Azzurri rested star goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in that match, and he won't face New Zealand this time since he's out due to a herniated disc. Buffon was replaced by Federico Marchetti in the first half against Paraguay, and Marchetti will start Sunday.
"A good goalkeeper is just as valuable as a striker who scores a lot of goals," defender Giorgio Chiellini said about Buffon. "It's obvious how much he's worth to the team."
Star midfielder Andrea Pirlo is recovering well from a left calf injury but is expected to miss Sunday's match. Pirlo was missed badly in the opener by the Italians, who are feeling the weight of expectations.
"Not qualifying for the second round would be a complete failure," De Rossi said. "It would be like New Zealand going out in the first round of the Rugby World Cup. I think finishing among the top four would be a respectable result."
The All Whites were thrilled to open with a good result but know they must improve.
"Some of the quality of the movement up front could be better and we'll work on that," coach Ricki Herbert said.