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Italy open World Cup defence with Paraguay draw

There has been a lot of talk in recent months over whether Italy are capable of defending the World Cup title which they won in 2006. If tonight is anything to go by, it’s going to be quite a struggle.

Italy struggled to a share of the points against Paraguay in a game low on creativity and invention, with both goals coming from set-pieces which owed more to defensive mistakes than attacking quality.

The only player who showed any flashes of brilliance for the Italians was winger Simone Pepe, who did his best to provide impetus but didn’t get much in the way of help from the dismal strike pairing of Alberto Gilardino and Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Italy didn’t have a single noteworthy chance in a first half where they were reasonable solid but lacking in any sense of adventure. Goals look like they are going to be hard to come by for Italy, as they rarely threatened Paraguay’s goal. Defensive solidity was the order of the day as they only allowed Paraguay one shot on target, although that one effort happen to be Antolin Alcaraz’s 39th minute goal.

Aureliano Torres curled in an impressive free-kick from Paraguay’s right, and Alcaraz got in front of Daniele de Rossi to head home past a stranded Gigi Buffon in the Italy goal. There was nothing Buffon could have done about the goal, but his last significant action proved to be picking the ball out of the net as he departed the game injured at half-time.

Italy will hope Buffon’s injury is not serious, as they can ill afford to lose one of the world’s top goalkeepers and arguably the side’s best player, particularly as they are already without influential playmaker Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo is expected to return at some point during the group stages, and that return cannot come soon enough for the Azzurri as they looked completely devoid of ideas throughout the game.

Their goal, when it came, was the product of goalkeeping incompetence rather than Italian invention. Pepe’s in-swinging corner flashed across the six-yard box, and Paraguayan ‘keeper Justo Villar completely missed his punch as he lunged for the ball. It was a terrible piece of play by Villar, compounded by his defence, who seemed unaware of where the ball was as de Rossi nipped in at the far post to fire home.

It’s hard to decide which choice was worse; Villar’s charge out and missed punch, or the entire Paraguayan defence’s insistence on not even watching the ball as they preferred to block off and wrestle with the Italian’s trying to get on the end of the corner.

Paraguay will have been particularly frustrated to concede, given that their best chance of the second half had come not long before, as Enrique Vera smashed narrowly wide from a tight angle when he really should have hit the target.

After the Italian goal, there was little in the way of goalmouth action, with the most notable chance a long range effort from Italy’s Ricardo Montolivo which skidded off the turf just in front of Villar but was well dealt with by the goalkeeper.

This draw leaves both teams still well in contention of qualifying, with their toughest game out of the way and eminently winnable ties against Slovakia and New Zealand to come. As for Italy’s chances of progressing much further than the group stage? Considerably less certain.

Man of the Match: Antolin Alcaraz. Not many standout players here; Pepe was good in fits and starts, but it comes down to one of Paraguay’s two centre backs. Alcaraz just shades it over Paulo da Silva due to his goal which gave Paraguay the lead.

Moment of the Match: de Rossi’s goal. Terrible error from the ‘keeper, but the goal enabled de Rossi to make amends for his contribution to Paraguay’s opener, and could well prove key to Italy’s hopes of winning the group and avoiding Holland in the Second Round.

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