Fragile Italy fear New Zealand's height

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NELSPRUIT - Italy's confidence is so brittle that the holders are talking about the threat posed by New Zealand in Sunday's Group F World Cup clash rather than boldly predicting how they will destroy the 78th-ranked team.

The Azzurri's 1-1 draw with Paraguay in Monday's group opener was the latest in a series of unconvincing displays and they will be taking nothing for granted at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit despite New Zealand's clear inferiority.

Inexperienced Italy goalkeeper Federico Marchetti will start following Gianluigi Buffon's back injury, adding to the uncertainty witnessed in the defence against Paraguay.

The 27-year-old, who sometimes awkwardly punches the ball, has just six caps and has barely played with Italy's back four.

New Zealand earned their first point at a World Cup when Winston Reid netted with a header to equalise in injury time of their opening 1-1 draw with Slovakia and Italy are concerned about their opponents' height in the box.

"We know they are a very physical squad and good in the air," Marchetti told reporters, aware he will have to command his area if Italy are to avoid any embarrassment.

The holders are also scarred by a 4-3 win over New Zealand in a friendly just before last year's Confederations Cup in South Africa, where they were dumped out in the group stage.

New Zealand, who qualified for the World Cup by beating teams like New Caledonia before prevailing in a playoff against Bahrain, worried Italy repeatedly in that meeting and only a late flurry prevented Marcello Lippi's side from humiliation.

DEAD BALLS

Left back Domenico Criscito, likely to keep his place despite struggling with his crosses on Monday, is also wary.

"New Zealand are very strong from dead balls," he said. "We have to go on the field to win the game. We are not thinking about losing."

Ask most Italy fans about the biggest threat offered by their side and you might get a blank look.

Forwards Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta were anonymous against Paraguay and Lippi has not ruled out changes, although making an immediate switch is not his way despite Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Di Natale knocking on the door.

The team will continue to alternate between a 4-4-2 formation and a 4-2-3-1 given that the absence of midfielder Andrea Pirlo limits their creative options, although winger Mauro Camoranesi could come into the side.

Pirlo is running and kicking after his calf injury but Lippi has all but said he will not face New Zealand. He should return for the final group game against Slovakia on Thursday.

New Zealand, who hope vice-captain and midfielder Tim Brown is fit to play after a broken shoulder, will enjoy their moment.

"We've got nothing to lose, nobody is expecting anything from us," defender Tommy Smith said.

"We're just going out there to prove to ourselves that we can cope against the top level team."

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