Italy shared a 1-1 with Paraguay in their opening Group F match at the 2010 FIFA World Cup last night.
Alcaraz scored with a great headed goal for Paraguay from a 39th minute freekick in a first half that was so unambitious that it seemed as though Italy, holding World Champions or no, could be in serious danger of losing their opener, until Villar in the Paraguay goal walked under a Pepe corner allowing De Rossi to grab a vital equaliser from two yards on 63 minutes.
Though Italy dramatically improved in the second period, due, largely, to a switch from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2, and the galvanising input of the combative and direct Camoranesi on the right of midfield for the ineffectual Marchisio.
The best player on the pitch by a long way was Pepe, who threatened with every touch but, particularly in the opening 45, appeared short of a target man from both open play and set pieces. The jury is still out on the decision to leave Luca Toni at home for this World Cup.
Where Italy seemed most lacking was creativity: they desperately missed Pirlo’s midfield dynamism; and it was also clear just how much the Italians miss flair players like Totti and del Piero, whom they have not replaced like-for-like.
Italy will be most disappointed, however, with the manner in which they fell behind – a centre forward getting a leap on their defence and heading into the bottom corner from 12 yards. This was not a vintage defensive performance from Italy, if anything, apart from the one lapse, it was Paraguay who looked the more confident and organised defensively.
Da Silva and Alcaraz in Paraguay’s defence were imperious, and well backed up by a workmanlike performance from all of their back eight, who slotted behind the ball for most of the match. This game, but for two errors, could easily have been 0-0 – after half an hour, that was where it looked to be heading until Paraguay won a freekick on a rare foray into Italy’s half.
Italy will be concerned that Buffon went off at half time through injury – their defence might cope with an occasional lapse with the world’s best goalkeeper behind it – as they proved at the last World Cup.
As it was, a point was shared, and it tells the story of the match that Paraguay seemed a little disappointed at an opportunity for three points missed as the final whistle sounded in the pouring Cape Town rain.
These two sides will qualify from Group F, but Italy will be relieved that they still have a chance to get out on top – with New Zealand and Slovakia to play, this seems to have been a Group F decider, even at this early stage.