The reigning champions were strong favourites before the Group F opener in the wet and cold Mother City. Their battle with the South Americans produced few fireworks but it was an intriguing duel whose 1-1 result could only be seen as a fair one.
Italy is famous for being a late starter at the World Cups and this one is no exemption. For most of the first half and the first part of the second, it was Paraguay that could have been mistaken for the more famous and storied competitor. Paraguay’s defence was well composed and confident, while their sorties into Italian territory were looking increasingly dangerous, until Alcaraz finally gave them the lead with a brilliant header from a Torres cross. The first part of the second half also saw Paraguay dominating the game, until Camoranesi brought new urgency into Italian play. For the rest of the game, the Italians tried their best to break the Paraguayan defence, which was strong and unfussed until the end.
Photo: Paraguay’s Lucas Barrios (top) is challenged by Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
All in all, it was a workman-like performance from both parties that consider their incoming opponents, Slovakia and New Zealand as far easier targets. De Rossi’s goal, however, raised quite a few eyebrows: as has happened several times before, Paraguay’s very experienced goalkeeper and captain, Villar, who was rock-solid up to and after that moment, inexplicably missed the cross. Is it possible that the ball has been the factor that confused all these goalkeepers’ reactions and materially changed the direction of some games? Hmmm.
Here are this reporter’s notes.
Paraguay: Villar, Morel, Bonet, Vera, Da Silva, V Caceres, Riveros, Torres, Valdez, Lucas, Alcaraz.
Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito, Pepe, De Rossi, Montolivo, Marchisio, Iaquinta, Gilardino.
Man of the match
The First five minutes is spent in testing each other’s muscle.
- 6th minute: Italy appears to be upping the tempo somewhat, finding a couple of holes in the Paraguayan defence. Nothing serious yet, but one can sense the logic. From their side the Paraguayans appear to be aggressive in one-on-one contact; they have probably told by the coach Martino to make sure the Italians are never comfortable when in possession of the ball.
- By the 20th minute, the game opens up a bit and the midfielders from both sides are trying to get deeper into their opponent’s territory. The rain and cold at the Green Point Stadium are merciless tonight and the spectators are still braving the elements, even having fun. Hopefully the game will provide more reasons for them to warm up.
The Paraguayan defence is very composed and solid. They do not lose their line when under attack, not so far, at least. They almost look Italian in their surefootedness.
- 21st minute: The Paraguayan players eke out their only corner so far, then another in quick succession. The Italian defence is strong.
- 22nd minute: Paraguayan counterattack number one. Torres shoots from a promising position, than hangs his head in shame.
- 24th minute Pepe’s free kick / dangerous cross is dealt efficiently by the Paraguayan defence, despite the screams from the Italian side of the crowd.
The tempo is definitely being upped a bit. If only the rain was not so persistent…
- 29th minute: Pepe’s corner kick manages to find its way into the inner sanctum of the Paraguayan defence, only to be cleared up by Alcaraz, mere metres from the goal line. The Paraguayan defence is good and deals deftly with two more crosses into the penalty box.
Photo: Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon reacts after conceding a goal to Paraguay’s Antolin Alcaraz during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
- 39th minute Paraguay scores! The big central defender Antonio Alcaraz out-jumped the entire Italian defence and buried his header into the corner, giving no chance to Gigi Buffon. It was Paraguay’s first shot on target, but somehow one cannot see it as an injustice. Italy was simply not good enough. Maybe the fact that Paraguay was second in the South American qualifying round, just a point behind Brazil, actually means something?
Alcaraz will play in the Premiership next season, for Wigan, who no doubt feel very good about their latest purchase now.
Paraguay’s Antolin Alcaraz (21) celebrates his goal with team mate Nelson Haedo Valdez during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match against Italy at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
- 42nd minute: Cannavaro is temporarily injured, reminding everyone but coach Marcelo Lippi that he is 36 years old.
The first half was a tough, no-nonsense fight without much beauty or outright excitement, but full of zest and skills despite the hard rain and cold that would immobilise many a weaker soul. On the face of it, not much different from the Slovenia vs Algeria game, but much more like Ghana vs Serbia.
Federico Marchetti of Cagliari has replaced Milan’s Buffon in the Italian goal. It will be strange not to see Buffon on the pitch. He is a true legend.
The Paraguayans started the second half greatly energised by Alcaraz’s goal. Their already composed game is now authoritative.
- 54th minute: Vera’s rocket misses Marchetti’s goal by a whisker, after a deft Paraguayan attack. In response, Montolivo’s shot barely reaches Villar’s embrace.
Paraguay is now a much better side on the field. Italy will have to change something, and quickly, if they are to get back into this match.
- 59th minute: Camoranesi, that Italian legionnaire, makes an almost immediate impact on arrival by shooting some adrenalin into the tired legs of his colleagues, but Paraguay’s defence does not look overly worried.
- 62nd minute: Victor Caceres gets the game’s first yellow card, which is a testament to the spirit of tonight’s game, even though it is played in very rough conditions.
- 63rd minute: Azzurri score! The first mistake by the Paraguayan goalkeeper Villar, who completely misses what could be seen as a relatively easy cross, and the ball was gifted to the feet of de Rossi, who simply could not miss. (Is Jabulani ball to blame again?) The game is on now.
Photo: Italy’s Daniele De Rossi (R) scores past Paraguay’s Lucas Barrios during a 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
- 66th minute: Santana miscues a promising cross as he was in a very good position to bring Paraguay up front again. Italian hearts stopped for a second.
- 69th minute: Paraguay’s Nelson Valdez is replaced by the excellent Roque Santa Cruz, who currently plays for Manchester City.
- 70th minute Wily Camoranesi gets the yellow card after stomping his opponent. He is a very dirty player.
- 80th minute: A good move and goodish shot by Pepe was well stopped by Villar. How could this good goalkeeper have made such a terrible mistake previously?
- 83rd minute: Great low shot by Montolivo, well-stopped by Villar again. Both sides appear interested in winning: commendable.
- 86th minute: Pepe’s low-flying shot/cross was deflected well by Paraguay’s defence, which is under pressure but shows no signs of buckling. Yet, Italy looks more likely a team to score another goal right now.
- 88th minute: The Italians are besieging Paraguay’s penalty box, but don’t have much to show for all their effort.
- 90th minute: Three minutes of stoppage time and then the game ends.
By Branko Brkic
Main photo: Italy’s Claudio Marchisio (R) eyes the ball as Paraguay’s Victor Caceres (C) looks on during their 2010 World Cup Group F soccer match at Green Point stadium in Cape Town June 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria