World champions Italy began their defence of the trophy with a cagey draw against Paraguay thanks to a second-half Daniele De Rossi equaliser at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.
The defending champions have had to listen to criticism regarding the overall XI. Domenico Criscito, Riccardo Montolivo and Simone Pepe were all selected alongside the mainstays of the team, and Claudio Marchisio replaced Andrea Pirlo, who is nursing a calf injury. The rain fell in Cape Town, and the weather was more similar to a rainy day in Rome than a South American climate. This made the turf slippy and both sides had trouble retaining possession for significant periods of time in a tentative opening.
As with many matches thus far in the 2010 World Cup, the tempo was slow and both teams had a cautious approach, mindful not to lose their opening match. But on 39 minutes, the first genuine threat of the match resulted in a Paraguay goal. A set-piece was seemingly the only route to either goal due to the lack of creativity on the pitch, and Aureliano Torres’ free-kick was right into the danger-zone. Antolin Alcaraz, Paraguay’s centre-back, rose higher than Cannavaro to nod his team ahead.
Half-time came at a good time for the Azzurri, but when they re-emerged there was more bad news. Iconic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, presumably injured, did not rejoin his side on the pitch, and was substituted for Cagliari’s Federico Marchetti.
Paraguay, who beat Brazil and Argentina during qualifying, looked comfortable in their lead as Italy struggled to win the ball back. Lacking Pirlo’s ability to create chances, the likes of Pepe and Vincenzo Iaquinta worked tirelessly for no reward. With just over half-an-hour remaining, Lippi sent on Mauro Camoranesi to try and inject some imagination into Italy’s lifeless attack.
Lippi changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Iaquinta joining Alberto Gilardino up-front, and minutes later the Italians drew level. Pepe’s corner produced an awful flap from Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar, and De Rossi bundled in the equaliser. Italy, with Camoranesi and Antonio Di Natale making an impression from the bench, were a transformed team. Full of confidence, Pepe and Montolivo tested Villar from long-range.
As the match reached its end, it became clear that both sides would settle for a draw. Italy, the notoriously slow starters at major competitions, saw out the last few moments against their biggest rivals in Group F with ease. Italy’s brightest players were not, in fact, the heroes from 2006, but the likes of Pepe and Criscito. The inevitable condemnation of Italy’s underdogs from the media has been staved off, at least until they play New Zealand on June 20.
Italy 1-1 Paraguay – Alcaraz 39 – De Rossi 63
Italy: Buffon (Marchetti 46); Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito; De Rossi, Montolivo; Pepe, Marchisio (Camoranesi 59), Iaquinta; Gilardino (Di Natale 72)
Paraguay: Villar; Bonet, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel; Vera, Caceres, Riveros, Torres (Santana 60); Valdez (Santa Cruz 69), Barrios (Cardozo 76)