Paraguay earns 1-1 draw with Italy
Defending champs stunned in opener
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA , QMI Agency
Paraguay's Antolin Alcaraz celebrates his goal against Italy with teammate Nelson Haedo Valdez. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
CAPE TOWN -- It wasn't pretty. It wasn't dynamic. It won't do much to ease the pressure on Italy.
But it did offer just a little hope that maybe the defending world champs aren't dead -- almost, but not yet.
And after the way they played in their 1-1 tie with Paraguay ON Monday in the first group game for both sides, it's about as good as they can hope for.
The good thing is that Italy came back from a 1-0 first-half deficit, showing some life in the second half.
The bad news is the Italians couldn't have been more lifeless and static in that first half during a game played almost entirely in a driving rain in cold conditions.
Paraguay had to be happy with the point. It was hanging on at the end as Italy pushed forward.
The final result may not have satisfied Italy or its fans but it will take the one point and be thankful.
There has been great interest in seeing what the Italians would bring to the South Africa World Cup table.
"Any doubt about Italy should be answered now," said Italian manager Marcello Lippi. "The game showed we still have the legs, the head and the heart."
It was no feast. It was more like an overdone meal that was hard to swallow and remembered only for its mediocrity.
With Andrea Pirlo out, the job of creating was given to Claudio Marchisio.
The Italians had most of the ball in the first half but couldn't do anything with it.
There were flashes of quick work and passing, but not enough to warrant any hope.
Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino had little to work with up front.
Paraguay was happy to keep pace with the Italians which gives everyone a pretty good idea of how slow and inactive the game was.
Italy is waiting anxiously for Pirlo to return probably in Game 3 of the group stage but given he is injured and didn't have the greatest season, he won't be enough.
Paraguay made the most of their one good chance.
The goal came on a free kick taken well outside the box from Aureliano Torres. The Italian defence looked confused from the start. Torres sent the kick spinning into the box and the Italian defence lost Antolin Alcaraz. His sliced header left Buffon nailed to the ground. It found the corner of the net in the 39th minute.
Buffon was replaced before the start of the second half with a sciatic nerve injury. He said that he would be ready to play in two days.
"It was difficult for us because we didn't deserve to be trailing 1-0," Lippi said. "The free kick was the first thing (Paraguay) was able to do the entire first half."
The Italians played much better in the second half but they weren't facing a Germany or Brazil.
Paraguay was the toughest team in their group. Any ties in the standings at the end of the group stage will be broken by goal differential.
New Zealand is the weakest link in the group that includes Slovakia and it could be a race to see how many Paraguay and Italy can score against the Kiwis.
Simone Pepe floated a corner into the six-yard box. Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar missed punching the ball away. Daniele De Rossi snuck in behind him and half-volleyed the ball into the empty net.
One never knows what Lippi really thinks, but he claimed to be happy with how his team played.
"We played a good game," he said. "The only thing missing were the three points. We were scored on on the only chance they had and then we responded with like a great team should."
From that point on, Italy took a hold of the game. The only worry they had was being careful of Paraguay's counter-attacks.
But Italy's real worry begins when it starts thinking about how poorly it played.