NELSPRUIT, South Africa — The meaning of a World Cup draw couldn't be more opposite than in Italy's 1-1 tie with New Zealand on Sunday. For the Azzurri, the one point was depressing. For the Kiwis, it was monumental.
Defending champion Italy had to rally to get the draw in the latest World Cup stunner. With two successive ties, the 78th-ranked All Whites are in position to advance to the second round if they can beat Paraguay on Thursday. The Italians also would move on from Group F if they beat Slovakia.
"I think that stopped the nation," New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert said. "It's the most incredible result we've had across the board. As a football coach, it's way above anything we've achieved in the history of the game.
"We are always daring to dream. At the World Cup anything is possible – we've seen some strange results – but nothing as big as that one."
Or as small if you have an Italian perspective.
"We're just sorry we didn't win a match we could have," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said. "If we didn't win against New Zealand it's our fault. Once again, the opponent scored on their first chance. We were able to control the game after that, but this was a match we should have won."
New Zealand took the lead after only seven minutes when Italy's 36-year-old captain Fabio Cannavaro made a horrendous error, handing a goal to Shane Smeltz. A long free kick from Simon Elliott sailed deep into Italy's area, off Cannavaro's hip as he fell and directly toward the waiting Smeltz for the tap-in.
It was New Zealand's only shot on goal the entire match.
Riccardo Montolivo hit the goalpost for Italy in the 27th, then Vincenzo Iaquinta equalized two minutes later with a penalty kick. Tommy Smith was given a yellow card for tugging down Daniele De Rossi inside the area on a corner kick.
Iaquinta appeared to celebrate as if he were blowing a vuvuzela, the plastic trumpets that have become a symbol of this World Cup.
"We've got to keep our heads up and move on," he said.
At the final whistle, however, the celebration was located in one corner of the Mbombela Stadium, where a small section of New Zealand fans marked their country's historic result by taking off their shirts and waving them around deliriously.
"I'm very very proud," Herbert said. "We knew we'd be up against it, but we had great resilience and stayed organized."
Paraguay leads the group with four points, Italy and New Zealand have two points each and Slovakia is last with one point.
Italy meets Slovakia in its final group match Thursday. All four teams could still advance.
Playing in only its second World Cup – having lost all three of its matches in 1982 – New Zealand gained a point for the second consecutive game after also drawing 1-1 with Slovakia in its opener.
"It's fantastic," Herbert added. "We feel we're deserving and the nation is going with us to Round 3 (of the opening group games)."
Long after the game ended, New Zealand fans remained inside the stadium, moving down to the lower level to continue celebrating, waving flags and blowing on vuvuzelas as the All Whites reserves played a training match.
"This is the best result since I've been involved," said New Zealand forward Chris Killen, who plays for Middlesbrough in England. "It was a great achievement tonight. Every one of us got cramped."
Kiwis goalkeeper Mark Paston was virtually flawless, preserving the draw with a leaping save on a long, powerful shot by Montolivo in the 70th.
Italy controlled virtually throughout the match, but New Zealand nearly won when substitute Chris Wood sent an angled shot just wide in the 83rd.
Italy was also held to a 1-1 draw by Paraguay in its opener. The Azzurri looked sharper than against the South Americans, but couldn't beat the physical and tall Kiwis in the air and again had a tough time weaving their way through to the goal area.
The Italians haven't won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November, a streak of five games that includes four draws and a 2-1 loss to Mexico in a World Cup warmup.
Coach Marcello Lippi could make no excuses despite missing his top two players: goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (herniated disk) and midfielder Andrea Pirlo (left calf) both injured.
Buffon could miss the rest of the tournament and Federico Marchetti of small Serie A club Cagliari got his first World Cup start in Italy's net.
Pirlo is likely to return against Slovakia.
Italy wore black armbands in memory of former national team defender Roberto Rosato, who died Sunday at the age of 66.