Champions Italy let off the hook by yet another goalkeeper gaffe

Italy 1 Paraguay 1

At the end of his last match in a World Cup, which also finished in a 1-1 draw, Marcello Lippi returned to his hotel room in Berlin, poured himself a whisky, lit a cigar and replayed the game that won him football's ultimate trophy. What he would make of this match is rather less certain. The campaign to retain the trophy had been launched with a reasonable display, although the loss of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon halfway through might have rather deeper consequences than the result.

Perhaps because, mingled in with the emotion that comes with winning a World Cup, is the realisation that you are unlikely to taste it again, motivating world champions at the beginning of a tournament is notoriously difficult. Given that the last 10 world champions mustered just six goals between them in their opening games when they returned to defend their trophy, Italy were actually above par.

Lippi's side in general and Riccardo Montolivo in particular were sometimes brutally treated by a Paraguay side that is a considerable improvement on the one overcome by England in the dry summer heat of Frankfurt four years ago. Here, in driving, incessant rain, their attacking options had been brutally curtailed by the shooting of Salvador Cabanas in a Mexican nightclub in January and the less dramatic injuries that prevented them starting with the obvious first-choice pairing of Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo. When the latter came on, the cameras focused to one of his supporters offering a prayer. They would have settled for this and so, although they were the better side, would Italy.

Had Justo Villar, the Paraguay keeper and captain, not pushed away Montolivo's drive as it threw up a fountainful of water, Italy might have won. They, like Paraguay, required a set-piece to score as Daniele De Rossi met Simone Pepe's corner fractionally ahead of Lucas Barrios before running over to the bench to rub beards with Gennaro Gattuso, who appeared made for this unforgiving contest but who was strangely ignored by his manager.

Like a lot else in South Africa, the meteorological forecasts tend to be blunt and the one for the Western Cape read simply "terrible weather". It was not wrong and for once the sound of this World Cup, the humming of the vuvuzelas, was replaced by the pounding of ocean rain on to the roof of Green Point Stadium.

These are conditions that Antolin Alcaraz will come to recognise at Wigan, having agreed to join Roberto Martinez's club from Bruges last month. He might, however, find the DW Stadium could fit comfortably in one corner of Green Point.

Six minutes before half-time, as the rain streamed down, he rose above De Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro to head home a curving, curling, beautifully delivered free-kick from Aureliano Torres. The ball made itself at home in Buffon's net and the world champions wondered what had happened. Lippi gave a faint shrug of his shoulders. His opposite number, Gerardo Martino, who had spent the preceding half an hour wiping raindrops from his glasses, punched the air.

The Italians had arrived in Cape Town disparaged and dismissed. They were too old, Lippi had put too much faith in the men who had won him the trophy in Berlin, they had been performing badly for as long as anyone could remember. In fact, there were only four men over 30 while Lippi relied on just three of the team that had started the last World Cup final, which was reduced to two when Buffon was replaced by the rather less heralded Federico Marchetti after the interval.

Once Montolivo had recovered from the shock of being scythed down by Cristian Riveros with the kind of reckless cynicism that might have seen Paraguay reduced to 10 men before a minute had elapsed, Italy played quite well without ever threatening to take the game by the throat or even by the lapels. They were struggling to impose themselves, goals were elusive and they were being shown scant respect. In short, they were playing like world champions.

Italy (4-2-3-1): Buffon (Marchetti, h-t); Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito; De Rossi, Montolivo; Pepe, Marchisio (Camoranesi, 59), Iaquinta; Gilardino (Di Natale, 73).

Paraguay (4-1-3-2): Villar; Bonet, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel; Cacares; Vera, Riveros, Torres (Santana, 60); Valdez (Santa Cruz, 69), Barrios (Cardozo, 76).

Referee B Archundia (Mexico).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence