World Cup: Italy vs. Paraguay: Italy scores in 63rd minute for 1-1 tie [Updated]
Italy opened the defense of its World Cup title with a laborious 1-1 draw against Paraguay on Monday.
Paraguay took advantage of its first shot on goal to take the lead in the 39th minute. Antolin Alcaraz outjumped 36-year-old Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Daniele De Rossi for a header following a free kick from Aureliano Torres, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had no chance for a save.
De Rossi made up for the opening goal by equalizing in the 63rd, sliding in to redirect a corner kick from Simone Pepe. It was a solid start for the AS Roma midfielder, who was suspended for four games during Italy's victorious 2006 run after bloodying the face of United States forward Brian McBride with a sharp elbow.
"We deserved to win," De Rossi said. "We controlled the ball virtually the entire time, but it's not easy against these teams that dream simply of drawing with the world champions. And if you fall behind, it becomes even tougher."
Italy coach Marcello Lippi said the biggest regret "was the result."
"They only approached the goal once and they scored," Lippi said. "We reacted well but you've got to win games likes these."
Already without injured midfielder Andrea Pirlo, however, Italy's fortunes took another hit when it lost perhaps its most valuable player -- Buffon -- after the first half. The 32-year-old goalkeeper was removed in favor of inexperienced backup Federico Marchetti due to an apparent back problem.
"During warmup he felt a pain in his back and after the first half he couldn't continue," Lippi said. "It was a big blow. We lost a substitution that we could have used. I don't know how bad it is or how long he'll need to recover."
[Updated at 2:30 p.m.: Lippi's side did little to disprove the critics who have labeled the squad as too old to win the title again, with nine players over 30. The Azzurri haven't won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November, drawing with Cameroon and Switzerland and losing 2-1 to Mexico in their World Cup warmups.
Italy center forward Alberto Gilardino hardly touched the ball and Lippi acknowledged his team needs to attack with more efficiency.
"We need to do more and do it better. Our opponent didn't do anything, they just kept things in check," the coach said.
Still, Italy can console itself by looking forward to its next match against one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament -- New Zealand -- before closing out play in Group F against an inexperienced Slovakia side.
"We can get two victories," De Rossi said.
Paraguay, which managed upset wins over Brazil and Argentina in qualifying, was considered Italy's toughest opponent in the group.
"We were very organized and we defended well in the second half. It's a good result for us against an opponent like this," Paraguay's Argentine coach, Gerardo Martino, said.]
After a day of often intense rain, the match kicked off under a drizzle, leaving the field slippery. Temperatures stood at 46 degrees, but the swirling winds coming off the ocean made it feel colder.
Italy started with six players from its 2006 squad in the lineup and a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gilardino spearheading the attack and Riccardo Montolivo replacing Pirlo.
Martino left Roque Santa Cruz of Manchester City on the bench and started with a two-man forward line of Borussia Dortmund teammates Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios.
Italy was organized from the start, pushing up the right flank with Gianluca Zambrotta and Pepe, but the Azzurri had trouble getting the ball to Gilardino.
Paraguay was content to sit back and wait for counterattacks and didn't venture into Italy's half until the 20-minute mark, when the South Americans won a couple of corners.
At the other end, Paraguay's Enrique Vera gave away the ball to Montolivo, but the Fiorentina captain could only get off a weak shot right at waiting goalkeeper Justo Villar.
Paraguay had its first significant chance in the 22nd when Torres shot wide from beyond the area.
With the rain picking up and fans blowing harder on their vuvuzelas --- seemingly demanding more action --- both teams stalled in midfield for a while before Paraguay took the lead.
In the second half, Italy appeared rattled at first without Buffon shouting his usual orders, and Vera nearly scored in the 52nd when defender Giorgio Chiellini failed to clear.
After De Rossi's equalizer, Italy's best chance for victory came in the 83rd with a long shot from Montolivo that Villar did well to push wide.
Also showing off swift passing skills, Montolivo proved an able substitute for Pirlo, but the Azzurri will be eager to get the AC Milan standout back, perhaps as soon as their next match, against New Zealand.
"I was pretty excited before the game and it turned out well," Montolivo said. "I'm happy the team played well and that everything worked so well between Daniele [De Rossi] and I. I would have liked to have had a few more shots on goal."
With Pirlo clearly recovering, the bigger worry now for Italy might be Buffon's status.
The other two teams in Group F, Slovakia and New Zealand, play Tuesday.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Italy's Fabio Cannavaro, right, and Paraguay's Lucas Barrios battle for a header. Credit: Helmut Fohringer / EPA