Monday, 14 June 2010

Paraguay Give Champs a Scare

Paraguay 1 Italy 1, Cape Town

Almost, almost. Paraguay was close to delivering the first real shock of the 2010 World Cup against the reigning holders, Italy, in the Cape Town Stadium. Los GuaranĂ­es took the lead in the first half and held it until midway through the second until the Azzuri finally managed to find an equaliser. As it was the men in red and white had to settle for the satisfaction of maintaining South America's unbeaten start to the tournament.

Both goals came from dead-ball situations but while there can be nothing for praise for La Albirroja's opener, Antonin Alcaraz, in the Paraguayan goal, will be kicking himself for the mistake that allowed Italy a way back into the match. His flailing left hand was nowhere near the ball following an innocuous looking corner and it was the simplest task for De Rossi to nod home. After Robert Green's clanger against the USA, Alcaraz clearly fancied becoming a member of the dodgy keeper club. He's in.

It has to be said that this was another disappointing encounter, short of clear cut chances. Paraguay will be doubly disappointed about the error for the goal as they had largely reduced the Italians to shooting from long range. True they spent a lot of time defending but this was certainly one that got away. Then again maybe it was better to play the Italians's first-up, notorious slow starters that they are.

Paraguay took the lead in the 39th minute. Aureliano swung in a free-kick from distance and Alcaraz rose highest to send a firm header into the bottom right-hand corner. The new Wigan Athletic signing was mobbed by his jubilant team-mates as they celebrated his first goal for his country.

There must have been an extra spring in their step when they came out for the second half as they realised that the experienced Italian keeper, Buffon, was staying in the changing room. Maybe he was making sure that his name wasn't inducted into the Goalkeeping Gaffe Hall of Fame. He needn't have worried: only a snap shot from Vera was close to troubling his replacement, Marchetti.

With no other clear-cut opportunities for Paraguay, the response from Italy duly came, leaving Gerardo Martino's men dreaming of what might have been. The coach was thrilled with the result:

'We played this game equally against the current world champions. To play against such a rival with such skills is a very good sign for us.'

With Slovakia and New Zealand to come there must be now a renewed belief in the camp that the Round of 16 is a more than achievable aim.

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