De Rossi demands Italy improvement

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The Independent Football

Midfielder Daniele De Rossi fears Italy are heading for an early World Cup exit if they do not improve immediately.

The defending champions were held to their second draw of the tournament in South Africa by New Zealand yesterday.

With just two points in Group F, Marcello Lippi's below-par side must now beat Slovakia in Johannesburg on Thursday to guarantee a place in the last 16.

Another draw would be sufficient if Paraguay beat New Zealand at the same time but De Rossi feels nothing can be left to chance.

The Roma playmaker said: "We'll have to improve quickly, because otherwise we won't be going far.

"We weren't at our best and we can do a lot better than that.

"We were lacking up front. We played the entire match in their half but we don't have enough to show for it.

"But it's not just a problem with our forwards - it's the whole team that didn't play well.

"The scenarios are not pretty - if we come second we play Holland, but so be it.

"It is useless making calculations - we know we must win and that's it. We all need to improve."

De Rossi won a controversial penalty after New Zealand had taken a shock early lead through Shane Smeltz at Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium.

The 26-year-old went down after minimal contact from Tommy Smith but Vincenzo Iaquinta levelled from the spot.

Italy dominated thereafter but squandered a number of opportunities and found All Whites goalkeeper Mark Paston in fine form as the game ended 1-1.

The only occasion Paston was beaten was in the first half when Riccardo Montolivo hit the post with a swerving low shot.

Montolivo said: "New Zealand defended really well but they also had luck on their side.

"They didn't really surprise us as we had studied and prepared for their physical strength and defensive style.

"Of course we wanted to win. It was very important for us to do so but unfortunately we weren't able to.

"We should have grabbed a goal in the second half and it was a shame we didn't. I thought we were a bit unlucky."

Italy had been expected to brush the 2,000/1 rank outsiders aside with ease but Montolivo claims the players had always expected a tough encounter.

"I don't think we underestimated them," the Fiorentina midfielder said.

"They converted their first chance on goal and that made it difficult for us.

"I don't think there are any easy teams in this World Cup - other big teams have found that.

"We need to be ready to go out and win against Slovakia. We have to be more aggressive and take more shots at goal."