Reigning champs Italy held to a draw by ParaguayJune 15th, 2010 - 4:49 am ICT by IANS
Cape Town, June 15 (DPA) Reigning champions Italy took advantage of a goalkeeping blunder to come back for a 1-1 draw with Paraguay in Monday’s opening Group F match in Cape Town.
Paraguay defender Antolin Alcaraz opened the scoring with a header in the 39th minute, but Daniele De Rossi equalized in the 63rd by taking advantage of Paraguay keeper Justo Villar’s failed clearance attempt to knot the game at the Green Point Stadium.
The other Group F match, to be played Tuesday, was to pit New Zealand versus Slovakia.
“It’s a bit disappointing that we only got one point. We feel we could have gotten the full three points,” Italy coach Marcello Lippi said.
“We invested a lot in the attack and played well and they only defended,” Lippi said of the match.
Paraguay striker Nelson Valdez said his team should be happy enough with the draw giving the strength of the group.
He also absolved Villar of any blame.
“We fell asleep for one second and you cannot do that against a team like that. It’s not the keeper’s (fault), we lost track of the player,” Valdez said.
Four-time world champions Italy had come into South Africa 2010 struggling with their recent form and were without creative force Andrea Pirlo against the Latin Americans - the AC Milan midfielder dealing with a calf injury.
Playing in heavy rain that at times turned to hail in front of 62,869 spectators, both teams spent the first 20 minutes feeling each other out, with the ball rarely entering the area at either end.
Things finally started picking up in the 22nd thanks to an Italy counter-attack that saw midfielder Riccardo Montolivo send a weak long-range shot into the arms of Paraguay keeper Villar. Paraguay’s Aureliano Torres then struck wide right from 18 yards a minute later.
Italy had a series of corner kicks just before the half-hour mark, but the closest they came was Alcaraz barely clearing away a Claudio Marchisio corner from the left in the 29th.
The Italians were the dominating side but created few real chances. And Lippi’s side were made to pay for it six minutes before the break.
From some 35 yards out, Torres sent a free kick into the box, where Alcaraz outjumped Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro and headed to the right post.
Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon was only able to pray that the ball might end up wide, but a goal it was - Alcarez’s first for Paraguay in his seventh cap with the national team.
There was more drama in the Italian camp when Buffon was unable to start the second half with a sciatica nerve problem, with Cagliari’s Federico Marchetti entering for his sixth cap.
Coach Lippi later confirmed that Buffon had a back problem, but said he hoped to recover him for Italy’s second game against New Zealand Sunday.
After the re-start, Italy were closest, but Simone Pepe just missed connecting a bicycle kick off Gianluca Zambrotta’s cross from the right side.
Paraguay threatened the world champions in the 55th minute as a clearance attempt went right to Nelson Valdez, who shot just inches wide of the near right post.
And it was the European powers who answered the bell to knot the game in the 63rd minute: Pepe’s corner from the left side was badly misplayed by Villar, whose left fist clearing attempt came up empty, allowing De Rossi to hammer home with a sliding finish from three yards.
Italy remained determined to grab the victory but could not overcome Villar, who stopped Montolivo’s attempt with seven minutes remaining.
And the South American defence stood strong the rest of the way despite the increased Italian pressure.
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