Paraguay's stiff competition holds Italy to a draw

Italians lack magic in opener against South Americans

Goals: 39' Alcaraz, 63' De Rossi

Holders Italy opened their 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign with a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in Group F on a rainy evening at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

Antolin Alcaraz shocked the Gemany 2006 champions in the 39th minute to open the scoring, while Italy’s Daniel De Rossi took advantage of some unconvincing goalkeeping by veteran Justo Villar to equalise just after the hour mark. New Zealand and Slovakia play the group’s other opening match tomorrow in Rustenburg.

The two teams were well-organised in the early stages despite the difficult conditions and neither could fashion a chance of note in the opening of the match. In the 22nd minute, however, the South Americans showed they would be dangerous on the break, finding Aureliano Torres all alone on the edge of the box. But the defender failed to hit his shot cleanly and Gianluigi Buffon let it run wide as Italian supporters held their breath.

Italy threatened shortly after as young midfielder Claudio Marchisio swung in a nicely flighted corner, but Cristian Riveros was first to it, stretching smartly to clear over his own crossbar with striker Vincenzo Iaquinta lurking.

Paraguay were again quickest from a dead ball situation six minutes before the break to open the scoring. Torres sent in a lovely free-kick, and defender Alcatraz cut in front of Daniel De Rossi and rose higher than Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro to thump a header past the stranded Buffon.

At half-time the Squadra Azzurri got more bad news as Buffon retired hurt for Federico Marchetti, who won just his sixth cap between the sticks. But the four-time FIFA World Cup winners began stronger after the restart, and an unmarked Simone Pepe might have scored at the far post from Gianluca Zambrotta’s cross, but he could not connect with an ambitious overhead kick.

Pepe had another chance in the same spot just minutes later, but Villar caught it just in front of the charging Italian. However, the keeper was keft completely stranded in the 63rd minute when he came out to collect Pepe’s corner, only to miss the ball and watch helplessly as De Rossi flicked it simply into the empty net.

The momentum swung solidly in Italy’s favour after that, but Villar came up strongly for the South Americans. First, he claimed the ball well in front of Iaquinta from a similar looking corner to the one he missed, and then in the 80th minute, he held Pepe’s low shot in front of the eager Italian attack. And he continued his redemption three minutes later, as he saved to his right to claimRiccardo Montolivo’s long but skipping shot.

Italy next play New Zealand on Sunday in Nelspruit, while Paraguay take on Slovakia the same day in Mangaung/Bloemfontein.