JOHANNESBURG, June 18 – Reigning champions Italy look to get their World Cup defence onto a sounder footing in their second match of Group F against New Zealand in Nelspruit on Sunday.The Azzurri struggled in their opening match and needed a Daniele De Rossi second-half equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in Cape Town last Monday.
The next day minnows New Zealand celebrated their first-ever World Cup point with a stoppage-time goal to draw 1-1 with Slovakia in Rustenburg.
Centre-back Giorgio Chiellini said while everyone expects the four-time world champions to get past the 78th-ranked All Whites, he is expecting a tussle.
New Zealand took on Marcello Lippi’s team in a friendly ahead of the Confederations Cup last year in South Africa and impressed before going down 4-3 in their only meeting.
The All Whites led the match on three occasions through goals from Shane Smeltz and Chris Killen before Italy clawed back to win.
"They’re very physical, we played them in a friendly last year, they’re very dangerous in the air and from set pieces," Chiellini said.
"But everyone knows that we should win. We need to have more shots than we did against Paraguay.
"We have to give away as little as possible and to keep the ball on the ground rather than playing long balls.
"It won’t be easy but with all the respect we owe our opponents, we should win.
"I don’t even want to think about the possibility of a draw or something else."
Lippi, who was in charge as Italy beat France to win the last World Cup in Germany, is content with the progress his squad is making in South Africa.
"I have never seen a big team come to a World Cup finals and start at 100 percent," he said.
"Teams need to grow throughout a tournament and they do that through their results.
"We’re not at 100 percent but that’s the same for everyone. I’m very satisfied with the progress the team is making. There’s nothing to worry about."
Italy will be without their talisman goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who suffered a recurrence of a herniated disc against Paraguay and is unlikely to play again at the World Cup, giving way to Cagliari’s Federico Marchetti.
Buffon, Serie A’s goalkeeper of the season seven times and four times world goalkeeper of the year, is a significant loss for the Azzurri.
"We know what he’s worth. We always need someone like him, from every perspective," Chiellini said.
"For any team a great goalkeeper makes a difference, as much as a striker who scores. The goalkeeper and the strikers are the most important positions."
New Zealand are dreaming of stunning the football world and reaching the round of 16 after the euphoria of their last-gasp equaliser by defender Winston Reid against Slovakia.
"It’s still a long way to go. The immediate focus is the next game — Italy," coach Ricki Herbert said.
"But it is possible, we just got to keep working hard and believing in ourselves and see what happens.
"We will keep on dreaming — the reality is we have a chance like anybody else. It will be tough but we are competitors and right up there."
All Whites skipper Ryan Nelsen also believes his team can now entertain hopes of making it to the knockout stages.
"The equaliser in the 93rd minute has given us something to play for in the next two games. Now we need a win. If we can get a win, whether it’s against Italy or Paraguay, you never know, we could go through," he said.
KEY TO MATCH
Alberto Gilardino/Vincenzo Iaquinta versus Ryan Nelsen
Italy will be looking for goals from Gilardino and Iaquinta that were missing against Paraguay. They could get their chance against an All Whites defence anchored by Blackburn Rovers’ stopper Nelsen. This appears the ideal match for Italy to get fully on the World Cup trail.