UPDATE, 4:21 p.m.: ITALY 1-1 PARAGUAY. Wrap-Up: Well, it wasn’t a hugely entertaining match, because Paraguay put on a defensive clinic for most of the game, and Italy looked slow, uninspired, and their only goal was essentially given to them by Villar. Though Paraguay didn’t look threatening up front, they managed to capitalize on Italy’s mediocre set-piece defense. It was a great result for the South Americans, who capitalized on mediocre Italian play throughout the game; the outcome won’t (probably) effect the eventual outcome of the group, but it did prove pretty revealing of the Italian offense.
Man of the Match: Antonin Alcaraz. Scored a beautiful goal and played fantastic defense for the entire game, essentially shutting down Italy’s strikers until the last few minutes.
Welcome to the second installment of the Blargus Live Analysis! Today, the defending champion Italy takes on a surprising Paraguay team; the heavily-favored Italians will come out looking to strike quickly (but not too quickly–they are Italian, after all), and Paraguay should make sure to get through the first ten or so minutes without conceding. Italy should be cautious of Paraguay’s speed on the counter, especially Argentine-born Borussia Dortmund star Lucas Barrio, who scored 19 goals last season.
2:11 p.m. STARTING LINEUPS:
ITALY – Buffon; Criscito, Chiellini, Cannavaro, Zambrotta; Montolivo, Marchisio, De Rossi; Iaquinta, Gilardino, Pepe.
PARAGUAY – Villar; Morel R, Da Silva, Alcaraz, Bonet; Torres, Riveros, Cacares, Vera; Barrios, Valdez.
2:20 p.m. Pre-Game chatter: Marcello Lippi, the Italian coach, decided not to bring American-born Giuseppe Rossi, who was widely regarded as one of Italy’s better young talents. Rossi’s absence is a bit ironic, especially since he was the focus of a lot of pre-World Cup speculation. Genaro Gattuso and Antonio Di Natale (who scored 29 goals last season in Serie A for Udinese) will both start on the bench, and both could provide energy later in the game–especially Gattuso, who is famous for his seemingly never-ending energy reserves. Another important topic will be captain Fabio Cannavarro’s age and speed: while he is still the best defender in the world in terms of his pure knowledge of the game, as he has aged his quickness and speed have begun to deteriorate. This could be an issue against a speedy team like Paraguay.
2:23 p.m. Important to remember: Paraguay beat both Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, so don’t think that this will be a total cakewalk for Italy.
2:24 p.m. Players are on the field, national anthems about to begin. Here we go!
2:25 p.m. Chiellini winks at the camera during the Italian national anthem. Fantastic.
2:27 p.m. Anthems over, players take the field–should be a fun match! A draw would be a fantastic result for Paraguay, a country where 40% of the country lives below the poverty line; the players look determined and believe that this is the best Paraguay side ever.
2:29 p.m. Coin toss, handshakes, SOCCER! There are only 3 players in the Italian lineup from the last World Cup campaign.
2′) INJURY. Oh, no. Riccardo Montolivo is already down, but he hops back up. Italy pushing the ball well, but good interception from Paraguay.
3′) Both teams looking good in the early going: there are a lot more Italians in the crowd than Paraguayans. Corner to Italy, headed away. Lots of “new wave” Italians in the lineup today, as I mentioned earlier–Montolivo’s hard shot blocked by Paraguay.
5′) The announcers remind us that Paraguay was the only team to beat Brazil by more than one goal. Possession looks more or less equal, though Italy has threatened more.
7′) Good defense from Paraguay on Italy’s last offensive set–they look solid, well organized in the back today.
9′) Italy has come out strong so far. Good play down the flanks with Zambrotta, and they look pretty strong in the midfield: good ball movemen, as Iaquinta makes a good play on the corner, feeds to Motolivo whose shot is blocked (again).
10′) Uh, oh. After fantastic run from De Rossi through the center, he seems to fall, clutching his ankles. Fantastic play leading up to the “injury” from De Rossi right there.
12′) BEAUTIFUL footwork from Pepe on the right wing, leads to nothing after he flubs a long ball. Both teams are playing quite vertically, with lots of long, elevated passes around the sides and the middle.
13′) Hard rain in Cape Town today, and the fans are all bundled up in their winter coats. Hasn’t stopped the vuvuzelas though…
16′) The big threat for Italy right now are Zambrotta and Criscito’s long runs from then wing-back position–very good play from both of them.
18′) While the tempo looks good right now, neither team has come out very technically sound. Good cross looking for Iaquinta, who overruns it.
19′) Pirlo and Camoranesi have both been left out of the squad because of injuries.
20′) Good short corner for Paraguay. We’ll do it again after an Italian clearance.
21′) UUUYYY. Motolivo is is gifted a ball at midfield, but really misses with his shot after going one on one with a defender. He really missed one there.
22′) UUUUYYYY!! Torres takes a big shot from the top of the Italian area with lots of space, but totally flubs the kick. Wonder if there’s something wrong with the pitch, after two straight mis-kicks.
25′) Good pass in to the top of the area for Paraguay, and Cannavarro is bailed out by his teammates, as he falls down trying to defend the turn.
26′) Italy seems to have cooled off a bit after their surprisingly fast paced, attacking start.
28′) Dangerous free-kick for Italy on the side of the area, cleared well by the Paraguayan defense Viera.
28′) UUUUYYYYYY! Chance for Italy off the corner, but nobody can get a foot on it, and Paraguay clears it RIGHT in front of the goal.
30′) Pepe gets called for offside; I get the feeling that a lot of the Italians have been going to ground a bit easily, though it might just be the pitch, because none of their complaints got them anything.
33′) Paraguay’s central defenders, especially Alcaraz, look really strong in the early going–very disciplined, good communication.
35′) Not the case in attack, though. Paraguay’s strikers have barely touched the ball, and they’re sticking with the long, elevated passes down the wings. Italy’s speedy attack is thwarted again by Alcaraz; they reset, but still nothing doing right now.
36′) Very bad attack from Paraguay–they looked like they were off, but bad ball handling and a missed pass instantly put any threat to bed (which is where this game is sending me right now…).
38′) GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!! GOOOOAAAAALLL GOOOAAAALLLLLL GOOOAAAALLLLLL!!! PARAGUAY! Beautiful pass into the center, and Alcaraz elevates over everyone and puts the ball in the back of the goal. No chance for Buffon–shocking!! Fantastic play from the young Wigan defender, his first goal for his country!
41′) Paraguay looks good right now, they’re excited by their goal, and look really strong. What an incredible pass from Torres to Alcaraz on the goal. Incredible sport, soccer–it can go from downright boring to fantastically shockingly exciting in seconds.
43′) Cannavarro (he was supposed to be guarding Alcaraz on the goal) slips up, looks shaken as he gets up. There has to be something wrong with the pitch.
45′) The Italians keep going down–maybe Paraguay is playing tough right now, but there are other explanations. Italy has dominated proceedings so far, but can’t find the goal. 1 minute of stoppage.
45+1′) HALFTIME. Shocker so far in Cape Town, as Paraguay takes a 1-0 lead into the locker room. Last World Cup Italy only allowed two goals for the entire tournament, and they’ve already allowed one. Italy has absolutely dominated so far, but has lacked a finishing touch; conversely, Paraguay has only had one shot on goal–and that shot ended up in the goal. Italy looked really weak on the dead ball plays so far though, and they’ll have to fix that if they’re going to make a deep run in this tournament; Paraguay looked very strong on defense, but not on offense–their goal came from a central defender, Antonin Alcaraz, my player of the game so far.
Chatter in the broadcast booth is about how Italy can change it up: the midfielder Palombo’s name has been thrown around, as well as Di Natale, a prolific striker. I could also see Gattuso coming in to bring some spark to the proceedings, but Palombo’s a good alternative, and Di Natale has a fantastic touch in front of goal. The absences of Pirlo and Camoranesi are certainly taking their toll on Italy.
46′) BUFFON OUT, PRESUMABLY WITH AN INJURY. Big blow for Italy, especially if this injury is serious–maybe not in this game, but for the rest of the tournament as well. Italy only has two substitutions left.
47′) Paraguay needs to keep some attacking feel, otherwise Italy will begin to push farther and farther up. Good so far from Paraguay.
49′) Players are slipping all over the pitch, as the ball seems to glide around as if on ice. Oh, and the last time Italy didn’t make it out of the first round was back in the early 1960’s, and their team was pelted with rotten fruit as they got off the airplane (thank you, Martin Tyler).
52′) UUUUUYYY!! Beautiful cross from Zambrotta to the second post, but just too high for Simone Pepe, who tries an acrobatic bicycle kick.
54′) Paraguay still looking strong in defense, which leads to a dangerous break, but Vera shoots wide. Italy is looking pretty bad right now, as Montolivo’s shot is blocked (again).
55′) Camoranesi is preparing to come on–out comes Marchisio (58′).
59′) Paraguay is trying to kill play, but Italy gets a great break, and Camoranesi, immediately after coming on, hits a very pretty pass to Pepe on the back post.
59′) Torres comes off in favor of Santana.
61′) Caceres gets a Yellow Card for a reckless challenge on Montolivo.
62′) GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!! GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLL GOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL GOAAAAAAAAALL!!! Daniele De Rossi takes advantage of a goalkeeping howler off a corner. No chance for Paraguay on that one–tough finish for De Rossi, but the future captain took it well. Villar is the most recent GK to make a howler.
64′) Italy suddenly looks very threatening, as Montolivo takes a dive in the box looking for a penalty. Maybe the goal will propel the Italians into the lead?
65′) UUYYYY! Santana flubs a shot in front of goal–not a great opportunity, but we’ve seen people score with less going for them.
68′) Somehow Buffon sustained a hamstring injury during the first half–seems hard to understand as he didn’t really have to do anything. Rocque Santa Cruz comes on for Valdes.
69′) GILARDINO! No! Turned away at the last second as he didn’t have any help.
70′) Yellow Card to Camoranesi.
71′) Di Natale is getting ready on the touch line–good, active decision for Lippi.
72′) Scratch that: off comes Gilardino. Straight forward for forward substitution.
75′) Camoranesi needs to watch out–he’ll be sent off if he keeps tackling like that.
77′) Play looks pretty bogged down in midfield, as Italy’s corner ends up in the hands of Villar.
79′) UUUUYYY! GREAT counter from Italy–they moved the ball beautifully around the field, quickly finding Pepe on the left side. His shot was weak, though, ending up in Villar’s hands.
80′) Corner to Paraguay–watch out, Italy didn’t look good on set pieces.
81′) Comes to nothing, as Cannavarro clears.
83′) UUUUYYY! Finally a good shot from Montolivo, the ball bounces awkwardly off the slick pitch, but Villar just gets a hand to it. Italy’s threatening.
85′) Threatening free kick now for Italy, cleared really well by Paraguay, leads to a corner.
86′) Comes to nothing as Villar clears; Iaquinta makes a beautiful run down the side, but his cross barely misses Di Natale’s head. Yikes.
87′) Italy gets the ball back–pushing forward with more heart than football right now.
89′) Long faces in the crowd of Italian spectators.
90′) Three minutes of stoppage.
90+1′) Here comes Italy! They’re pushing really hard, but they’re hitting the wall of Alcaraz, man of the match so far.
90+2′) Free kick to Paraguay, but it looks like a bad call–Italy will not be pleased about that.
90+2′) This thing is ending… Maybe Italy has one more attack left, but ut doesn’t look good.
90+3′) FINAL! ITALY 1-1 PARAGUAY. Shocker. Paraguay played a really good, defensive game, but Italy just couldn’t find an offensive idea. Great result for the South Americans.