ITA 1 NZL 1: Cutting it

THE Prime Minister of New Zealand, you may be disappointed to learn, is not Brian from Flight Of The Conchords. He’s a chap called John Key, and he’s not a man easily embarrassed.

Last month, he brought a press conference on childhood education funding to a shuddering halt by discussing his vasectomy. He wasn’t intending to. It just, erm, popped up.

When it did, Key admitted that he had probably volunteered too much information to a group of hacks who were thinking more about potential political stories than the one that landed in their lap… having sprung from the Prime Minister’s. (Stop this. Ed.)

“Boy, that’s slowed things down,” Key said, as silence swamped the room. “Any other questions?”

“Did it hurt?” asked a reporter.

“Not overly, actually,” Key responded, continuing his headlong foray into Richard Madeley territory. “All I can say is it’s been highly successful. But we won’t get into that either.”

To the relief of everyone in the room, he didn’t.

Key, thankfully, managed to avoid all reference to his vasectomy when asked for a reaction to New Zealand’s extraordinary result against Italy in Nelspruit this afternoon. Instead, he talked about his heart.

“My heart was beating so much, it just about came through my chest,” Key told a New Zealand radio station, having been in the crowd. He was, according to reports, dancing in the dressing room afterwards.

This was one of the World Cup’s great shock results, up there with the US beating England in 1950, North Korea beating Italy in 1966, Algeria beating West Germany in 1982, Cameroon beating Argentina in 1990, England beating anyone at this tournament.

Had New Zealand held on to the early lead given to them by Shane Smeltz – once of AFC Wimbledon and Halifax Town – it would have surpassed them all.

Italy equalised after half-an-hour, as Vincenzo Iaquinta converted a penalty awarded for Tommy Smith’s shirt tug on Daniele De Rossi. The penalty was harsh – De Rossi – made the most of it – but then Smeltz’s goal should have been ruled out for offside, so 1-1 was about right.

Most people watching must have expected Italy to push on to a comfortable victory after that. It didn’t happen. Mark Paston made a series of impressive saves – not bad for a keeper making only his second competitive appearances since breaking a leg last December. But it was centre-back Ryan Nelsen who stole the show.

Blackburn defender Nelsen was astonishing, marshalling his less experienced team-mates through the game, and playing to the finish even after suffering cramp. He earned his Prime Minister’s post-match congratulations.

Nelsen, by the way, has not had a vasectomy. His wife is due to give birth on July 6, five days before the World Cup final. Don’t be ridiculous – of course he will be back from South Africa in time. But what a story he’ll have to tell the kid in years to come.

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