JOHANNESBURG - New Zealand have found an "X-Factor" in their squad that is helping them to surprise pundits and they go into a game against the world champions Italy on a high, players said on Thursday.
The All Whites, one of the lowest ranked sides in the World Cup in South Africa, notched their first ever point in the sport's biggest tournament on Tuesday, giving them an outside chance of a place in the knockout rounds.
The 1-1 draw against Slovakia has captured the imagination of New Zealand supporters and observers ahead of Sunday's game against Italy in Nelspruit.
Ranked 78th, they are one of the minnows of the World Cup, but a good team spirit and no major injuries has seen the squad gel into a tight unit.
"It's a good group of guys and there seems to be a bit of that X-factor that you can't quite put your finger on, and you work to keep it that way," veteran midfielder Simon Elliott told reporters after training at Daveyton, near Johannesburg.
All teams in the group sit on one point, leaving Italy, winners in 2006, to push for a win or risk a surprising first round exit.
Defender Tommy Smith said the pressure was all on Italy, who stumbled to a draw in their opening game against Paraguay.
"We've got nothing to lose, nobody is expecting anything from us," he said. "We're just going out there to prove to ourselves that we can cope against the top level teams."
Vice-captain and midfielder Tim Brown trained fully with the squad on Thursday after recovering from a broken shoulder and is in contention to start against Italy, although the Paraguay game on June 24 may be more likely.
"There's no pressure on him. If he's ready and we think he's right and he's good enough to be in the team, he will make the team," coach Ricki Herbert said. "I think it's a possibility (he will start on Sunday)."
He added the team needed to hold on to the ball better against Italy than in the Slovakia match, particularly up front, and strikers had to make sure they took their chancescomments