Paraguay and Slovakia advanced from that group, leaving captain Nelsen and his Kiwi team unbeaten but going home after three consecutive ties. The one consolation was New Zealand (0-3-0) finished ahead of Italy (0-2-1).
While the Italy draw was a disappointment for Nelsen and the All Whites, it was seen as a victory by many since the Azzurri were the reigning world champions and ranked 74 places above New Zealand.
It's been three years since that game but mention De Rossi — the Italian was named man of the match that day at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa — and Nelsen makes a face like he just sucked a lemon.
"Did he play?" Nelsen asked innocently after practice Tuesday. "I can't even remember if he was playing. I can remember someone falling over really easily and costing us a win against the Italians and costing New Zealand (reaching) the next group stage."
In truth, defender Tommy Smith did snatch at de Rossi's shirt but the clutch-and-grab was short-lived and he had let go by the time the Italian decided to theatrically hit the turf. Still, Italy outshot New Zealand 23-3 (7-1 in shots on target) and had 15 corners to the Kiwis' none.
Nelsen, now 35, and the 30-year-old De Rossi will be reunited in vastly different circumstances Wednesday night.
The former New Zealand international will be on the sidelines at BMO Field while De Rossi will be wearing AS Roma colours as the touring Italian side, still in pre-season mode, takes on Nelsen's Toronto FC in a friendly. Toronto expects a crowd of 17,000.
Roma won the first game of its North American tour last week, defeating the MLS all-stars 3-1 in Kansas City. The Italian side wraps up its tour Sunday against Chelsea in Washington, D.C.
Under new coach Rudi Garcia, Roma is still assembling its team. De Rossi was linked to Chelsea earlier in the summer but is still with Roma. The Italian side has added Ivory Coast forward Gervinho.
Roma (18-12-8) finished sixth in Serie A last season, one point ahead of city rival Lazio.
Wednesday's game is a chance to see the amazing Francesco Totti, who made his Roma debut 20 years ago. Now 36, he is still going strong some 501 games and 315 goals later.
"It's a privilege to play against world-class players," said Toronto captain Steven Caldwell. "Sometimes it can be humbling when you're out there. But you've always got the memories and you can say that you were lucky enough to experience that in the flesh. So I'm thoroughly looking forward to playing against a number of Roma's players.
"Sometimes you find that when you get out there, it's somebody that you don't know too much about that's the one that sticks in your mind. Very exciting. Hopefully we can do very well.
"It's an important game for them for different reasons to us. They're preparing to start a season and we're trying to build on a disappointing points tally and to try and somehow get ourselves in the position where we can maybe look towards the fourth, fifth position in the playoffs."
Toronto (4-10-8) is currently enjoying a rare purple patch. Nelsen's side has grabbed seven points in its last three matches, defeating Columbus and New England after tying New York.
And while calling Roma a "world-class team" and "pretty much the sharpest point of the football world," Nelsen talked about getting everyone minutes. It's clear he is mindful of Saturday's visit by the Seattle Sounders (9-7-4).
"Seattle's obviously the more important game being a league game and we have to keep an eye on that of course," he said. "But it's still a game of football and these guys no matter what, even if they're having a kickaround with us coaches, are pretty fired up to beat us.
"So it's a competitive game of football and of course you want to win. It shows a benchmark of where you are against some of the world's best players."
Nelsen said he planned to give No. 1 goalie Joe Bendik a night off, with Stefan Frei getting the start and No 3 Quillan Roberts possibly also seeing action.
He plans to mix and match his lineup, looking to find some familiar combinations rather than start his normal MLS team and then throw in reinforcements.
NOTES — Toronto striker Danny Koevermans remains sidelined with a calf injury but everyone else is healthy ... Nelsen confirmed that Toronto was keeping a close eye on forward Clint Dempsey's return to MLS and the TFC manager had good intel given he shares an agent with the U.S. international. Dempsey ended up choosing Seattle. Nelsen says having the U.S. captain come to Canada didn't make sense for the league — and neither did the salary numbers for Toronto. Still Toronto fans may see the former Fulham and Tottenham player at BMO Field on Saturday when the Sounders come to town.