Italy 1-1 Paraguay
Italy (4-2-3-1) Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito, De Rossi, Marchisio, Montolivo, Pepe, Gilardino, Iaquinta.
Paraguay (4-4-1-1) Villar, Bonet, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel Rodriguez, Vera, Victor Caceres, Riveros, Torres, Haedo Valdez, Barrios.
Slippery and wet. Two words you may associate with Italians but two words that you would not usually associate with a World Cup pitch. So rain joins the list of South Africa’s intriguing contributions to this World Cup, along with Bafana Bafana and Vuvuzela’s.
Injuries surrounded the build up to this game with both teams suffering from significant absences. For Paraguay it was their influential forward Salvador Cabanas who was infamously shot in January leaving a bullet lodge in his brain that his neurosurgeon deemed too painful to remove. World Cup winning playmaker Andrea Pirlo was missing for the holders.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw after a hard fought game in which both sides looked threatening right up until the final whistle. The final whistle that brought an end to the Marcello Lippi’s ranting on the touchline and left Paraguay’s ‘keeper Villar relieved after failing to deal with a number of crosses.
My personal man of the match Daniele De Rossi looked vibrant throughout. The accuracy of his passing and the timing of his tackling set an example to the rest of the Italy midfield and would not doubt have pleased potential transfer hounds Real Madrid.
Another interesting point gathered from the opening moments is that the much criticised legs of Fabio Cannavaro held out against the willing running of Lucas Barrios. The defender looked resolute in his work and dispelled any rumours of a hamstring problem by leaping into the, leg outstretched, in an attempt to control the ball. He failed, but his hamstring held out.
As the game possessed it was noticeable that both teams were assured in possession, willing to keep hold of the ball for lengthy spells if an opening was not forthcoming. Paraguay’s 4-4-2 formation in particular forced Italy to hold onto the ball longer than necessary. The intense pressing of the Paraguay banks of four caused Italy to rush possession and, on occasions, gift the ball to the South Americans.
The previous praise I had dished out to two Italy players looked foolish as the new Wigan signing Alcaraz leapt above both Cannavaro and De Rossi and headed the ball into the back of the net. I never said I was perfect!
Simone Pepe who started the game on the right flank in the 4-2-3-1 system was noticeably affronted by a Morel challenge and then proceeded to threateningly wag his finger at the Paraguayan. Very Touchy.
As the second half began Buffon was absent in the Italy goal and Cagliari ‘keeper Marchetti was found in his place. The combination of short sleeves and a neck warmer seemed slightly ridiculous although the ‘keeper may have been suffering from an irritable neck rash. I fear we will never know.
The introduction of Camoranesi changed the game. Camoranesi posed a direct threat to the South American’s defence and his pace and willingness to get to the by-line served the Italians well. His presence brought a 4-4-2 as Pepe was switched to the left hand side, a position in which he cut inside and showed promise only for Villar to comfortably save his effort.
The Paraguayan ‘keeper noted pre-match for his height, or lack of it, duly obliged to prove to the doubters that he was, indeed, unable to catch a cross as he missed an Italian free-kick and Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi tucked the ball away to equal the scores.
Italy’s confidence grew but Paraguay remained defiant in defence, their pressing limit Italian chances but Riccardo Montolivo managed to fire a shot in the direct of the Paraguay goal. Villar was, this time, equal to the effort and managed to turn the ball round the post for an Italy corner.
The fulltime whistle sounded as the rain continued to lash down leaving famously slow starters Italy with a point and confidence in their attempted progression past the group stages.