Paraguay came so close to giving the tournament its first major shock, but it was not to be. While Italy coach Marcelo Lippi has many things to worry about, he will take comfort in the resilience his side showed to rescue a draw here.
This was a pedestrian Italy side, even more so than the stereotype suggests, and looked nothing like world champions. Games played at low altitude in South Africa thusfar have produced more goals and a slightly higher tempo but that was not the case in a rain-soaked Green Point stadium. They were comfortable enough when Paraguay unexpectedly took the lead.
The game was 39 minutes old when Paraguay stunned the hosts. Antolín Alcaraz – signed last month by Wigan Athletic – got in between Daniele De Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro, out-jumped them both and nodded the ball into the net. Paraguay celebrated like they had won the tournament, Alcaraz buried under a pile of joyous teammates.
The world’s headline writers were busily licking their lips at the prospect of ‘Escape From Alcaraz’ headlines as Italy tried to get back into the game. But this is an Italy side sorely lacking in pace, and without the injured Andrea Pirlo they struggled to create much of note. Things went from bad to worse at half time as Gianluigi Buffon, the veteran goalkeeper, felt a twinge in his back and was withdrawn.
Out of nothing they were back on terms and, once again, it was a gift from the goalkeeper. Pepe swung in a corner and Justo Villar came out to punch clear. He missed the ball completely and Daniele De Rossi headed into an empty net.
Italy avoided what would have been a second competitive defeat under Lippi, and while their remaining group games should pose no problems they will need to improve substantially if they are to hit the hights of their campaign four years ago. Paraguay will be disappointed to only draw a game they might have won but their passage to the knockout stage should be a formality, as Slovakia and New Zealand have so little to offer.