(Reuters) – Italy coach Marcello Lippi refused to accept he had omitted more talented players from his squad after the uninventive world champions were held to a surprise 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Sunday.
Their second World Cup Group F draw in a row means the Azzurri meet Slovakia on Thursday needing to win to secure their passage to the last 16 or face possible humiliation.
Lippi has ignored Sampdoria’s creative forward Antonio Cassano ever since returning to the job in 2008 while the likes of Alessandro Del Piero and Giuseppe Rossi were excluded despite their ability to do something different.
“I am absolutely convinced there are no phenomenons that I left at home,” Lippi, who will be replaced by Cesare Prandelli after the tournament, told a news conference.
“We have players who have personality, players who have proved it in the championship. We have the Serie A top scorer of 29 goals (Antonio Di Natale).
“I don’t think it’s a question of personality, it’s just fluidity. There is no one else I could have brought. They would have had the same problems as the lads who were out there today. It’s premature to talk about that.”
Lippi said he had no idea if Shane Smeltz’s seventh minute opener for New Zealand should have been flagged offside but reckoned it was a clear penalty when Daniele De Rossi was tugged back to allow Vincenzo Iaquinta to equalize on 29 minutes.
A vastly improved performance is required against Slovakia in Johannesburg on Thursday if the Azzurri are to go through but even a draw might suffice for the traditional slow starters.
Asked if the possible return to fitness of creative midfielder Andrea Pirlo could make the difference, Lippi said: “If he is available but I don’t have certainty.”
(Editing by Michael Holden)