de Rossi 63
A resilient Paraguay will be the happier of the two sides after grinding out a draw with main rivals for qualification from Group F Italy. Admittedly the game was not much of a spectacle, but Paraguay did what was necessary to compete with the Italians, and despite being unable to maintain the intensity of the first half, can take a lot of positives from this gritty affair.
In the early stages Italy looked less than content in playing for a draw in arguably their toughest group fixture. The Azzuri began with a more attacking intent than they are usually associated with, with some neat interplay involving the impressive Simone Pepe among others, whose encouraging finale to the club season with Udinese gave him the nod over teammate Antonio Di Natale. Nonetheless, the blood-and-thunder style that the match quickly settled into saw the likes of Fabio Cannavaro in their element. This is why the fact that the goal scored by Paraguay came from a set-piece is all the more surprising, given the difficulties La Albirroja faced in puncturing the Italian rear-guard in normal play. Paraguay pressed relentlessly, and in doing so exposed the lack of ability from the Italian players to move the ball quickly in an effective attacking fashion. As Italy went in behind at half-time for only the ninth time in 78 World Cup fixtures, Coach Marcelo Lippi will have been frantically conjuring a way to get playmakers Claudio Marchisio and Ricardo Montolivio more involved in the play. Without Francesco Totti, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Del Piero the Italians’ lack of creativity was evident.
The experienced Lippi did what Paul Le Guen of Cameroon failed to do earlier in the day against Japan, which was change personnel and formation quickly when his team was behind. With immediate effect, Mauro Camoranesi managed to use the ball more effectively than the man he replaced, Marchisio. Despite the fact that the Italians’ equaliser was aided by erratic goalkeeping from Paraguay’s No 1 Justo Villar, the domination of Italy throughout the second phase merited the goal. It is questionable as to whether or not the Azzuri look capable of defending their World Cup title, as they did not commence their tournament with the panache or vivacity of the equally efficient Germans. The game was a typical modern-day high-profile tournament encounter, in which both teams were more concerned with not losing than winning. This is somewhat understandable, given that both teams will undoubtedly see their remaining group fixtures against Slovakia and New Zealand as six points for the taking if they play to their maximum abilities. Nonetheless, it was a rather overly physical display, will tit-for-tat fouls abundant, yet the situation never threatened to boil over. Those with a penchant for the intricacies of tactics will have enjoyed this game, and the Albirroja faithful must surely consider a point a successful outcome given that Head Coach Gerardo Martino has declared he will retire if they do not progress from the Group Stage.