De Rossi 63
Italy got their World Cup campaign off to a slow start, coming from behind to claim a draw against a well-organised Paraguay side in a very wet Cape Town. Paraguay surprisingly led at half time through an Antolin Alcaraz header before Danielle De Rossi earned his side a point from close range.
The Azzurri were on the front foot early on but struggled to create anything to really test goalkeeper Justo Villar. Domenico Criscito won a freekick in a dangerous position but Italy failed to take advantage of the situation. After a patient approach for 40 minutes, Paraguay made the most of a deep freekick to take the lead. Aureliano Torres curled the ball into the penalty area and Antolin Alcaraz stole between De Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro to head home from the penalty spot. It was Paraguay’s first effort on target, with their best attempt previously having been a 20 yard shot that Torres screwed wide.
Italy were forced into replacing keeper Gianluigi Buffon with Federico Marchetti at half time and his first job was almost to pick the ball out of his net. In the 55th minute, Enrique Vera lashed just past the near post when he should have at least tested Marchetti, having been gifted a sight of goal by a poor clearance. Italy levelled after 63 minutes through De Rossi who stabbed home from three yards after Villar had got nowhere near Simone Pepe’s inswinging corner.
Paraguay replaced both their forwards with fresh legs, but neither Roque Santa Cruz nor Oscar Cardozo were able to find their way into the match and Marchetti remained largely untroubled. Pepe hit a long range shot down Villar’s throat after cutting in from the left before Montolivo forced the Paraguay stopper into a full stretch save in the 83rd minute, but Italy were unable to find a winner.
Paraguay fielded two strikers but the pair were left to furrow alone in attack. Only one Paraguayan midfielder scored a goal in 18 qualifiers in the South American section and the reasons were apparent against Italy. Whilst acting as an excellent disciplined unit defensively, there was no willingness to get forward and feed off the strikers from the midfield four. Playing two forwards on paper is an attacking statement but not if they are left isolated with eight bodies behind the ball. It was a system that proved effective in containing the Italians, with two banks of four constantly pressing Italy each time they ventured forward. With games left against Slovakia and New Zealand, this was not a must win game for Gerardo Martino’s side and few can argue with the fact their system worked for their needs, particularly in the first half.
For a country renowned for cautious football, Italy were showing plenty of attacking intent but struggling to find a way to breach the organised Paraguayans. Facing up to their billing as group favourites, Italy put in plenty of effort early on to press the Paraguayans high up the pitch but lacked any genuine creativity to find a way behind the opposition defence. The injured Andrea Pirlo would usually pull the strings in midfield for Italy and his ability to open up opposing sides is virtually unrivalled. Yet his replacement Riccardo Montolivo is highly rated and it was surprising how much he struggled to impact upon the game for the first hour, however effective the Paraguay system was. Claudio Marchisio in the advanced midfield role was similarly quiet and neither Vincenzo Iaquinta nor Simone Pepe made any inroads on the flanks.
That both goals came from set pieces was typical of the game. Paraguay were content to only throw bodies forward for free kicks and rare corners, although their delivery was excellent and gave them a chance of stealing a goal. Italy improved considerably once they switched to 4-4-2 with the introduction of Mauro Camoranesi just before the hour mark, with Iaquinta looking much more comfortable through the middle than he had stuck out wide. Yet it was Villar’s moment of madness that was the undoing of all Paraguay’s excellent defensive work. With the scores level, Villar began to be tested more by the Italians but he dealt comfortably with what was thrown at him, making his aberration even harder to stomach with a famous victory on the cards.
It is likely that two very different teams will be on view in their remaining games, in style if not in personnel. Paraguay beat both Brazil and Argentina in qualification with a more positive approach and they will surely revert to this type when faced with the less intimidating Slovakians and New Zealanders. Marcelo Lippi must surely take note of how much more comfortable his side looked once they switched to a flat four in midfield with two up front. With New Zealand in particular likely to play to their own defensive strengths, it is vital that Italy provide the attacking emphasis and their 4-2-3-1 formation did not work at all against the stubborn Paraguayans
Italy – Buffon (Marchetti 46) – Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito – De Rossi, Marchisio (Camoranesi 59), Montolivo – Iaquinta, Gilardino (Di Natale 72), Pepe
Paraguay – Villar – Bonet, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel Rodriguez – Vera, Victor Caceres, Riveros, Torres (Santana 60) – Haedo Valdez (Santa Cruz 69), Barrios (Cardozo 76)