As expected, the World Cup Group F game opener saw two of the best defensive teams in the tournament with Italy and Paraguay playing to a 1-1 draw at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Monday.
The defending champions were shocked by the South Americans in the first half when defender Antolin Alcaraz scored 39 minutes into the first half. The Wigan Athletic player beat the Italian defence in the air after a cross and sliced a header past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy did not look good during the half and could not find any weaknesses in a solid Paraguayan team that came to demonstrate why they finished just one point behind leader Brazil in the South American World Cup Qualifications.
The bad news continued to arrive for Italy after goaltender Buffon was replaced at the break due to a back injury.
However, the four-time champions came out with a different mentality for the second half and that focus was shown on the field. The ‘Azzurri’ started pushing and attacking from the sides with long crosses that were looking to break a strong defensive line. Paraguay was mirroring the champions’ game.
The only way Italy could get on the scoreboard was thanks to a mistake by Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar. A Simone Pepe corner kick into the six-yard box was misread By Villar who was unable to punch the ball away, allowing midfielder Daniele De Rossi to score the equalizer on an empty net in the 63rd minute.
The Italians dominated the majority of the second half but could not capitalize on a well-organized ‘Guarani’ squad that scratched a point from the current champions and takes a step forward to qualification.
Paraguay is one of the most underrated teams of the tournament; the white and red crew got the World Cup ticket after winning 10 games during the qualifiers, with victories over favourites Brazil and Argentina.
For Italy, the tie was not a good start to the event, but with New Zealand and Slovakia as the other members of Group F, qualifying to the second round should not be a problem.
The Italians will face New Zealand next, while Paraguay meets Slovakia. Both matches are scheduled for June 20th.