Referee duped by Italian theatrics
"You're not in Guatemala now, Senor Batres.'' But we wish you were.
That famous Shortland Street line could have written for Central American referee Carlos Batres.
The Guatemala City scientist fell for the worst dive of the World Cup by the most theatrical Italian since Federico Fellini. By doing so, he cost the All Whites - the gutsiest team in New Zealand sport - a famous win over the reigning world champions.
Make no bones about it - Italy, winners of four World Cup crowns, cheated to get back into the game.
In an act unworthy of a world champion, Daniele De Rossi flopped to the deck in the All Whites penalty area, alleging he'd been pushed by 20-year-old Kiwi innocent - Tommy Smith.
Smith had had a little tug of De Rossi's blue shirt but he'd let go long before the Italian floundered on the floor.
Only one person in Mbombela Stadium fell for the risible ruse - referee Batres who pointed to the penalty spot.
No wonder All Whites skipper Ryan Nelsen and veteran midfielder Ivan Vicelich got in De Rossi's face before Vincenzo Iaquinta lined up the freekick.
Adding salt to a raw wound, De Rossi won the man of the match award.
What a joke.
If a team ranked fifth in the world has to resort to deception to subdue a side ranked 78th, then what hope is there for the World Cup?
Fifa president Sepp Blatter was in the stands - and if he turns a blind eye to fraudulent acts of this magnitude, then he wants replacing.
Admittedly, the All Whites had snatched the lead through a dubious goal of their own. Shane Smeltz strayed offside just as Winston Reid touched on a cross which then cannoned off Italian skipper Fabio Cannavaro.
But there is a decided difference between an offside goal - a split-second judgment call by a match official - and a deliberate dive which resulted in a soft penalty and a yellow card for the guiltless Smith. De Rossi's name should have gone into the black boot instead, for shameful simulation.
Batres sensibly stayed in the middle of the pitch after he whistled for halftime, forming a laager formation with his linesmen.
He waved Kiwi striker Chris Killen away but he still got a spray from All Whites kitman Matt Hockin before he was pulled away by manager Phil Warbrick.
It must have been a lonely march up the tunnel for Batres with the Kiwi management staff trailing behind him.
They had every reason to be irate.
The All Whites got the rough end of the pineapple from the man in the middle for most of the first half. Ironic cheers erupted whenever he awarded a freekick to the Kiwis.
Striker Rory Fallon was cautioned for use of the elbow during some push and shove which saw three teak-tough Italian defenders crash to the ground, clutching their chins.
But there there was also something unedifying about the way the Italians clamoured around the ref, appealing for a red card against Fallon and coach Ricki Herbert was later forced to withdraw him to "save his tournament''.
But, there seemed one rule for the aristocrats and another for the artisans. Alberto Gilardino escaped scot-free when he scythed down All Whites skipper Ryan Nelsen from behind.
In the second spell, Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini grabbed Winston Reid around the neck and swung him to the ground, The result? No sanction for Chiellini and Batres allowed play to continue with Reid writhing on the ground as Italy launched a counter-attack with the scrambling Kiwi defence a man down.
Then we had the ridiculous scenario of an injured Ryan Nelsen yellow carded for refusing to leave the field on a stretcher.
It begs the question whether even the best referees in the world are sub-consciously intimidated by top teams.
The Azzurri fans had the craven cheek to cheer when Iaquinta slammed his spotkick past Mark Paston.
They were singing, lusty Latino tunes, before kickoff as they radiated a sense of entitlement born from four World Cup triumphs.
But it was the White Noise boys (and girls), who were chanting: "Who are ya?'' in the seventh minute when Smeltz netted.
Ricki Herbert danced a jig of delight down by the dugout and a blizzard of black and blue flags rippled through the stands.
The Kiwi supporters were the Balmy Army - it was 27deg at kickoff in Nelspruit - for 23 glorious minutes.
The New Zealanders at Nelspruit could well have been braying "Easy'' because this was the fourth time in two games that the All Whites had taken leads following the 3-4 defeat in Pretoria last year As an example of Italy's embarrassment of riches, they were able to replace Simone Pepe of Udinese with World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi of Juventus at halftime.
But this day belonged to a proud little Pacific Island nation with just 25 professional players. The All Whites, instead, brought on bank clerk Andy Barron against the Ferrari-driving millionaires.
Mark down June 20, 2010 as the date the New Zealand All Whites arrived for good on the international stage.
The moral victory was theirs - no wonder the White Noise boys had their shirts off, even ex-All White skipper Danny Hay as he embraced an ecstatic Ricki Herbert.