Yeah, you read that correctly. There’s been a lot of talk about these unexpected, unusual, even strange results in this World Cup. Depending on your point of view/country of origin, it’s either made for a great group stage thus far or a maddening one. But some of these surprises can be quite entertaining for nearly everyone…except for those whose team was on the receiving end. When New Zealand’s Shane Smeltz tapped the ball in to put the Kiwis in the lead in the 7th minute, it was one of those shock moments that makes soccer the unpredictable sport that it is. And when the final whistle blew with the score still even, I’m sure there was a collective head-shaking around the soccer world.
There’s a question of offside on the New Zealand goal, although from the replays I saw, the ball, which was sent into the box off a free kick, appeared to deflect only off Italian players. Now, I would never claim to be an expert on this rule (or any other, for that matter, but especially this one) but Ally McCoist seemed certain that if the ball only touched defenders then the goal-scorer was not offside. If it had come off an attacking player, then he was, and to my eyes that did not happen. Anyone see it differently, or have a different assessment of the rule than the announcer?
The surprise of the goal seemed to wear off quickly for Italy, as they largely held possession through the rest of the first half. After Iaquinta buried a penalty kick in the 29th minute to put the sides level, the Italians seemed at ease with just controlling the movement of the game, but weren’t looking hurried much at all. Once the second half started, I expected Italy to come out with guns blazing. They did continue to control things for the most part, but New Zealand’s defense was stronger than anyone must have thought, especially on set pieces. A good thing, that, considering Italy had 15 corners (New Zealand had none, which I didn’t even realize during the game) and 23 shots to New Zealand’s measly 3. If not for a stellar performance from New Zealand keeper Mark Paston, this game would have ended with a victorious Italian side, I have no doubt. It appears to be another example of underestimating a minnow and expecting a game to play itself out on the pitch as it does on paper.
For me, this is probably the biggest surprise result so far. Spain losing to Switzerland and Germany losing to Serbia were both unexpected, but there was a far smaller distance between the rankings and the overall quality in those matches than there was here. It’s not that I expected less out of New Zealand, but I expected more out of the current world champs.