New Zealand, rank outsiders to win the World Cup, held holders Italy to a 1-1 draw in the shock result of the tournament so far, as Europe’s highly-fancied teams once again struggled to make headway against supposedly inferior opposition.
The All Whites would have been hard pressed to find a single football expert in South Africa backing them to come out of their encounter in Nelspruit with a result, regarded before the start of the tournament as one of the biggest mismatches in the group stage.
But New Zealand, in only their second appearance in the final stages of the tournament and - according to the nation’s media - a country with only 25 professional footballers, produced a backs-to-the-wall display to hold off a below-par Italian team, boasting seasoned internationals.
The result follows New Zealand’s surprise 1-1 drawn against Slovakia – their first point in World Cup history – and leaves them level on points with Italy with one group game remaining.
To qualify for the World Cup, New Zealand overcame New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu, then Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They boast only one player of experience playing in a major league, Ryan Nelson of the UK’s Blackburn Rovers.
Italy’s failure to break down a dogged but technically average New Zealand team, will go down badly with the thousands of fans following the team in South Africa and the millions back home.
The Italian media are likely to inflict the same mauling on the misfiring Azzuri that the English and French media have handed down to their teams.
France’s terrible World Cup campaign is now all but imploding after the squad cut short a training session following a furious row between players and management and a senior official announcing he was quitting in disgust.
The training session was about to begin when captain Patrice Evra became involved in a heated argument with fitness coach Robert Duverne. Raymond Domenech, the French coach who was shellshocked after his team’s 2-0 defeat to Mexico on Thursday, had to separate them.
News agencies reported France team director Jean-Louis Valentin saying that the team refused to train, and that he was resigning.
“It’s a scandal for the French, for the young people here. It’s a scandal for the federation and the French team,” Valentin said. “They don’t want to train. It’s unacceptable.
“As for me, it’s over. I’m leaving the federation. I’m sickened and disgusted,” he added.
The bust-up follows the sending home of striker Nicolas Anelka after the Mexico defeat in Polokwane for insulting Mr Domenech after he was substituted at half-time.
The players are thought to be seething at the ejection of Anelka.
France, World Cup winners in 1998, were fancied by several football cognoscenti to do well in South Africa, despite a qualifying campaign which saw them scrape through to the finals after a play-off against Ireland.
The team is possessed of enormous talent, but French media have long suspected that rather than a cohesive unit, the team is a collection of temperamental individuals.
The French media have duly castigated the team for a campaign that has so far yielded one point from two games and no goals. An insipid display in France’s first 0-0 against Uruguay was followed by an only marginally improved showing against Mexico, which saw them lose to technically superior and more vibrant opponents.
France play South Africa in their final group game in Bloemfontein on Tuesday and have only an outside chance of qualifying for the next round.
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