Monday, June 14, 2010
Game 11: Italy vs Paraguay
The first game in group F was played out today, and both Italy and Paraguay were hungry for a victory. There was heavy rain on the day, but both sides managed to keep their footing throughout the match; although it would seem the gloom would hang over the Italian side for a while to come.
Coming into the finals, Paraguay has been having problems scoring, combined with Italy being notorious for normally playing a defensive game, it was interesting to see both teams attacking early, trying to get that go-ahead goal. In the 23rd minute Paraguay would have the first chance on goal, with a brilliant link-up play to Torres, but he would unfortunately put the ball wide of the net. Following this Italy would begin to press, but Paraguay's defense would hold strong, denying the defending champions after they had three corner kicks in a row.
The first goal of the game would occur in the the 39th minute, when Alcaraz would get onto the end of a brilliantly placed spot kick, and head the ball into the net, rising above two Italian defenders. The Azzuri were stunned, and you could notice they were hanging their heads. After constant pressing which saw Paraguay defending for their lives, Italy would finally get the equalizer from de Rossi, who would would score off a corner, when the Paraguayan keeper Vellar would make a huge mistake in the 63rd minute.
Unfortunately, Italy would be unable to find another goal. Even more unfortunate, Italy is already without star Andreas Pirlo, but now they may be without the world number one keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, who had to be substituted off at half due to back pains. Buffon had little to do all match, so hopefully this is not some pre-existing condition, otherwise Italy will have a tough time in future games without their starting keeper.
This match is interesting because the passing completion was one of the worst in World Cup history, with both teams only combining for a total of 67%. This could be attributed to the tough defense played by both sides, to the wet conditions, but a lot of it still has to come down to the players. Constantly throughout the match both teams would have problems finding space, resorting to a lot of unnecessary fouls. Thankfully, the Mexican official was able to keep the game going at a smooth pace.
This is certainly not the Italy who won the World Cup four years ago. They just didn't seem to have the pace that would allow them to perform their notorious counter attacks, but they also lacked the awareness to execute many of their set pieces. If Italy wants to go further they will have to work on their passing, for a defensively minded possession team, they did not perform to their best. By maintaining possession they will have more chances to play their strikers, or for their wingers to make runs, allowing them more chances on goal.
Paraguay actually played very well, as well as you would expect for Paraguay, anyway. They have never been a team that is great at scoring, and they showed that today, but they did play defense very well, halting many of the Italian's attacks before they could reach the penalty area. Starting with Roque Santa Cruz may be more desirable, as he was able to create a couple chances for Paraguay in the second half, something they were lacking initially. As with Italy, they will also need to work on their passing.