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Italy vs. Paraguay: Italy comes back swinging in the second half

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OLEG POPOV/REUTERS

(Read caption) Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi celebrates his goal against Paraguay during the Italy vs. Paraguay match today.

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Italy are not the first World Cup holders to struggle in their opening match, but they will take solace from a 1-1 draw with Paraguay. Italy dominated large parts of the second half.

Paraguay opened the scoring toward the end of the first half, with Antolin Alcaraz planting a firm header beyond Gigi Buffon.

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Italy’s coach, Marcelo Lippi, wouldn’t have been happy with the marking but he has to be impressed by the way his rejigged team came back in the second 45 minutes.

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Italy looked far better once they switched to 4-4-2, with Daniele De Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo impressive in central midfield.

Italy improved with each substitution.

Mauro Camoronesi, was particularly incisive after coming on for the last half hour. Within minutes Italy had equalized. Paraguay’s goalkeeper, Justo Villar should have dealt with Simone Pepe’s corner but flapped, allowing De Rossi to finish from close range.

Paraguay could have put the game beyond Italy by then, though.

Minutes earlier, Enrique Vera had blasted a shot over the goal from 12 yards out when he should have hit the target.

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When Paraguay qualified for the Cup, they had high hopes of making an impact in South Africa, partly due to their strikers, Roque Santa Cruz, Oscar Cardozo, and Salvador Cabanas, all of whom are proven goalscorers. But Santa Cruz’s season for Manchester City has been ruined by injury while Cabanas is missing the tournament after being the victim of a shooting earlier this year.

He was shot in the head, and, while he is expected to make a full recovery, this World Cup has come too soon. The South Americans are a tight-knit group, and many of the squad have spoken about the importance of performing well for their stricken teammate.

Since Group F also contains Slovakia and New Zealand they shouldn’t find reaching the second round too difficult.

Italy’s problems are less dramatic.

It is an aging team, more so than usual.

Fabio Cannavaro, whose next move may be to the Middle East, is still deemed by Lippi to be worthy of a place in the world champions’ starting line-up. It is fair to say this is not a view shared by all Italian fans.

While Lippi will feel confident of making progress, he will be worried that Buffon went off injured at half-time. Italy won’t mind being written off, though. Following the match-rigging scandal in 2006, few expected them to perform well, let alone win. Lippi will be hoping for a repeat performance and though they may not be favorites they can’t be written off just yet.

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