Italy vs Paraguay – Stalemate leaves top spot up for grabs
Italy came from a goal down to draw with Paraguay and leave first-place qualification from Group F wide open.
Marcello Lippi’s side had looked at risk of falling victim to the first major shock of the 2010 tournament when they fell behind to Antolin Alcaraz’s first-half header.
Uncharacteristically tentative Italian defending from an Aureliano Torres free-kick allowed Alcaraz a running jump on 2006 hero Fabio Cannavaro.
Italy had dominated possession but looked desperately short of ideas against Gerardo Martino’s disciplined side.
Lippi was forced to replace Gianluigi Buffon at half time – his injury could prove costly to Italy’s defensive stability – and also switched formation, a move that made them more threatening.
His side owe their thanks, though, to Paraguay’s goalkeeper Justo Villar, whose flap from a corner gifted Daniele De Rossi an equaliser. He is 3/1 to finish Italy top scorer.
Lippi’s second-half substitute Mauro Camoranesi looked good while Simone Pepe demonstrated skill and willing on the wing. But overall the Azzuri missed the creativity of Andrea Pirlo and lacked any real star quality.
The chances of them retaining their crown look slim at 16/1.
With World Cup novices Slovakia and New Zealand making up the Group F quartet, the initiative is with the Azzuri and Paraguay to seal qualification with each of their next games.
It seems top spot will be decided on goal difference and with Oscar Cardozo, Roque Santa Cruz as well as last night’s starting duo Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios, Paraguay have the potential to score more goals.
The finishing position is important as the difference in last-16 opposition could be as varied as Japan or Holland.
Italy meanwhile are a tempting 13/8 to go out in the last 16, possibly at the hands of the Dutch.