New Zealand shows the way

[GROUP F] Who would have ever predicted that after the second weekend of play at the World Cup England, France, Italy and Spain would all be winless? Perhaps the most shocking result to date was New Zealand's well-deserved 1-1 tie with Italy. For what we liked and didn't like about Sunday's action in Group F ...

What we liked ...

-- It's hard to believe that New Zealand, which has opened with ties against Slovakia and Italy, is the same team that gave up four goals in less than a half hour against Spain at last year's Confederations Cup and lost, 5-0. The All Whites played with purpose and confidence against Italy, taking the lead on German-born Shane Smeltz's goal in the seventh minute. It was the only shot on goal New Zealand had all game, but striker Chris Wood almost snatched the winning goal late in the game when he beat Italian star Fabio Cannavaro and fired a shot inches wide of the goal.

-- On Sunday, Cannavaro was second-best among central defenders to Ryan Nelsen, the former Stanford and D.C. United star who was a tower of strength for New Zealand. "The rest of the team don't play against world-class players so they don't see that they make a lot of mistakes too and that they're very human," Nelsen said. "That's what I was trying to tell the boys. Most of our guys are better athletes and when you're a better athlete, you're stronger and faster and you can really do things."

-- In a tournament plagued by few chances and fewer goals, Paraguay has led by example with some clinical finishing. The Albirroja disposed of Slovakia, 2-0, on goals by Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros. Paraguay needs only a tie against New Zealand to advance and will win the group with a win.

What we didn't like ...

-- What can you say about Italy? Perhaps it's not as bad as England or France but it is a shadow of the team that won the 2006 World Cup title. Before the New Zealand game, Coach Marcello Lippi slammed his forwards for their lack of initiative. Afterward, he refused to blame the attack but again bemoaned his team's lack of enterprise. Will midfielder Andrea Pirlo's return against Slovakia on Thursday change things? We'll see ...

-- It isn't just the Italy attack that's been a problem. Once again, the Azzurri fell behind early, allowing New Zealand to score a cheap goal. World Cup 2006 veterans Cannavaro, who failed to clear the ball that led to Smeltz's goal and was beaten by Wood, and Gianluca Zambrotta are showing their age.

-- After France, Slovakia is probably the worst European team at the World Cup. Coach Vladimir Weiss had no complaints after his team's 2-0 loss to Paraguay. “We made two mistakes and were punished for them," he said. "They were high quality opponents and their victory was deserved."

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