Italy lived up to their reputation of being slow starters as they ended up sharing points with a conservative Paraguay in the opening game of Group F at Cape Town after coming back from a goal down.
A light drizzle greeted the defending champions as they kicked off their World cup defense against an in form Paraguay. In spite of the absence of their experienced playmaker Andrea Pirlo, the reigning world champions started off well and kept the pressure on the South Americans from the very first minute.
It was one way traffic throughout the ninety minutes as majority of the game was played in the Paraguay’s half. Gianluca Zambrotta worked on the right wing with De Rossi and won the first corner for the Azzurri in the third minute which was very well defended by the Latin Americans. In the sixth minute, Domenico Criscito floated a ball in the Paraguay’s box but Claudio Morel was equally up for the task and it was neatly cleared by the defender.
Gerardo Martino’s men who had a terrific run in the warm up games unlike Italy were finding it difficult to cope up with the defending champions as they were tied up in their own half with Italy enjoying most of the possession.
Fabio Cannavaro lead from the front with the Italians proving to be clinical in defence. Zambrotta aided the midfield with his terrific runs and consistent delivery in the box from the flanks.
Twenty minutes into the match Paraguay won two successive corners but Lippi’s men handled them without any difficulties.
Riccardo Montolvio who was brought back into the national squad after Donadoni axed him from the Euro 2008 squad, had the maximum shots on goal for Italy. The Viola midfielder panicked at the best chance of the match which he had in the twenty-second minute when he stole the ball from Enrique Vera at the half line and got within twenty five yards of the goal with only the goal keeper to beat but his weak shot trickled straight in the gloves of Justo Villar.
Paraguay started finding their feet mid way into the first half and the game started to break out as Aureliano Torres shot wide a left footer at the Italian goal from the edge of the box.
Pressure increased on the latin Americans near the half hour mark with a series of free kicks and corners. Antolin Alcaraz defended well under pressure as he scooped a ball over the crossbar from an Italian corner.
Paraguay scored against the run of play in the thirty-ninth minute when Nelson Valdez was brought down by the Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini about 30 yards from the goal. Torres took the free kick and sent the ball into the box where the centre-back Alcaraez out jumped his marker De Rossi, squeezed between him and Cannavaro,and headed the ball past Buffon.
By now, it was pouring down on the pitch with Italy trailing the South Americans by a solitary goal and a massive upset looming large over them.
Lippi made a surprise change during the half time as he replaced Buffon by Marchetti in the goal. Italy changed the formation to 4-4-2 and piled on the pressure from the start of the second half. Zambrotta provided a wonderful cross from the right flank into the box to Pepe at the far post whose scissor kick was a futile attempt at goal.
In the very next minute, a game of pinball ensued between the Paraguay forwards and the Italian defenders. The latter failed to clear a shot by Lucas Barrios in their box, and the ball landed at Vera’s feet, but he blasted it over the goal from close range. After this minor scare, the Italians quickened the pace of their game, and Montolivo had another shot on target, yet again the ball went straight to the grateful goalkeeper.
With a little more than thirty minutes to go, Marcello Lippi replaced Marchisio with Camoranesi . Straight away after stepping on the pitch he provided a dangerous ball into the box which was plucked out of the air by Villar. An hour into the match, Martino made his first substitution when he brought in Santana for Torres.It was only in the sixty-second minute as a result of a reckless tackle on Montolivo that Paraguay’s Caceres got the first yellow card of the match.
Italy, after enjoying the best attacking spell of the match, restored parity in the sixty-third minute, thanks to a howler by Villar, who got off his line to punch away Pepe’s corner but failed to get anywhere near it. De Rossi, who was waiting behind the Paraguayan keeper, calmly netted the ball into an empty net.
Barrios and Santana made a wonderful dart with the ball into the heart of the Italian defense and could have put the South Americans back in the lead two minutes after the equalizer but Santana failed to increase the lead. In the final few minutes of the game, all substitutions were exhausted by both teams as they went for the kill.
Even the arrival of Santa Cruz couldn’t provide La Albirroja with the firepower which they were lacking upfront. The Azzurri shifted up a gear in the last ten minutes with a number of shots flying towards the Paraguay goal but Villar kept his cool and made sure that his team remained as joint leaders of the group along with Lippi’s men atleast till the second match of the group which will be contested tomorrow.
TheHardTackle’s Player of the Match: Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy)
The right back from A.C Milan was very reliable at the back line. Coupled with his intelligent runs on the right wing and precise deliveries into the box, he provided an able support to the midfield. All his critics who wrote him off before the start of the finals, would be hiding their faces now.
TheHardTackle’s Referee Report Card:
Benito Archundia Tellez (Mexico) – Grade: A
The Mexican did not have much to do in the ninety minutes as it was a clean game with very few fouls. Only two yellow cards were shown in the entire match. He allowed the game to continue with its flow and did not slow the pace of the game with unnecessary and harsh bookings.
ITALY 1-1 PARAGUAY
Venue: Green Point Stadium, Cape Town
Italy Line-Up: Gianluigi Buffon(Federico Marchetti ‘45), Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Cannavaro (c), Domenico Criscito,Gianluca Zambrotta, Riccardo Montolivo, Daniele De Rossi, Alberto Gilardino(Antonio Di Natale ‘72), Claudio Marchisio(Mauro Camoranesi ‘59), Vincenzo Iaquinta, Simone Pepe
Manager: Marcello Lippi
Caution: Mauro Camoranesi
Scorers: Daniele De Rossi
Paraguay Line-Up: Justo Villar, Antolin Alcaraz, Paulo Da Silva, Claudio Morel Rodriguez, Carlos Bonnet, Cristian Riveros, Victor Caceres, Aureliano Torres(Jonathan Santana ‘60), Enrique Vera, Lucas Barrios(Oscar Cardozo ‘76), Nelson Haedo Valdez(Roque Santa Cruz ‘68)
Manager: Gerado Martino
Caution: Victor Cacares
Scorers: Antolin Alcaraz