Draw pleases Paraguay, irks Italy

Arguably the biggest match on
Monday was between Group F powerhouses Italy and Paraguay. Both come away with
different feelings after a 1-1 draw in their World Cup opener.

The shot-shy Italians needed a scrambled
second-half equalizer by Daniele De Rossi after the South Americans looked like
it could pull off a shock victory. Italy was slightly better in the second
half, levelling after another goalkeeping blunder in the 63rd minute, but did
precious little to change the pessimistic view of their fans and media. Italy
have quickly re-focused on training with keeper Gianluigi Buffon getting extra
reps in goal.

Paraguay meanwhile had beaten
Brazil and Argentina in qualifying so had no need to be in fear of the holders
but their dire World Cup record where they have not got past the second round
in seven attempts, going out in the group stage four times, was always there in
the background.

Nevertheless most of the team has
positive feelings on their performance. Star forward Roque Santa Cruz, who came
on as a sub in the 69th minute, seems to have a swagger about him.

“It was a very tough opening game,”
Santa Cruz said. “We made a great start but we made mistakes in set pieces;
there were lapses of concentration which we can’t afford to let happen. I don’t
think we played our best football. We need to improve our set pieces. Italy
didn’t have a lot of chances. They only scored from a set piece.”

With a valuable point from the
game, buoyant Paraguay play Slovakia next on June 20 followed by New Zealand on
June 24. If those matches go according to plan Paraguay should advance if not
win the group. Striker Lucas Barrios is confident going forward.

“We’ve just played the world
champions and we’ve come away with a draw,” Barrios said. “It has given us a
lot of confidence. We wanted to play at the same level as Italy; we didn’t want
to just defend. So we’re happy even though we could have won the game.

“I think the next games will be
much more open and they should be a bit easier for us. We’ll need to work on
how we convert and on our precision.”

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