Champions Begin With a Draw

Posted on June 15, 2010 in Sports

Amiya Sinha:

Marcello Lippi’s side looked like they would be on the wrong end of the first major shock of the 2010 World Cup when they fell behind to Antolin Alcaraz’s first-half header but an error from the South American side’s goalkeeper Justo Villa gifted Daniele de Rossi an equaliser.

The ageing Azzurri, who featured five of their 2006 winning team in their starting line-up, looked short of ideas going forward and also have a concern over the fitness of legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was forced off at half-time with an apparent back injury.

Italy did avoid their first defeat in their opening game of a World Cup since losing to the Republic of Ireland in New York in 2004 but this was not a performance to reassure their army of travelling fans that they are in any sort of shape to defend their title.

In the absence of the injured Andrea Pirlo, who is expected to return later in the group stage, it fell on Simone Pepe to try to open up the Paraguayan defence, but it was only in the closing stages of the game that he and his side managed any sustained spells of pressure.

Lippi’s men dominated possession but their opponents’ disciplined and regimented approach, in some ways reminiscent of many cautious Azzurri sides in the past, held firm.

Italy’s best opening of the first half hour actually came on the break when Riccardo Montolivo dispossessed Salvatore Bocchetti on the half-way line but, after running to the edge of the area, his low shot barely tested Villar.

At the other end, Paraguay were growing in confidence and they had already wasted a couple of decent shooting chances when they stunned the world champions by taking the lead after 39 minutes.

Aureliano Torres curled in a wicked free-kick and Alcaraz leapt to beat Fabio Cannavaro and De Rossi and power home his header into the corner of the net.

Things got even worse for Italy at half-time when goalkeeper Buffon, another survivor of 2006 and still the anchor of their side, had to be replaced by Federico Marchetti.

Paraguay continued to look comfortable after the break and Enrique Vera came close to adding a second when he drove a fierce shot over the bar when the ball broke to him in the area.

But Italy were gifted an equaliser by the sort of goalkeeping howler that we have become used to in the opening days of this World Cup.

Villar flapped horribly at Pepe’s corner and missed his attempted punch, allowing the onrushing De Rossi to force the ball the home from close range.

Italy looked a lot sharper after equalising and ended the stronger side but they were still finding things frustrating in the final third and had to settle for shots from distance.

Pepe fired wide after cutting in from the right and Montolivo had a low effort turned round the post before the end but the Paraguayans held on for the draw that their performance merited.

Amiya Sinha

Amiya Sinha is a Special Sports Correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz and is covering the FIFA 2010 to get you the latest scoop.