Italy disappoint in group opener

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cape Town - Despite dominating most of last night's rain-filled game, Italy's popular Azurris missed several attempts at goal to notch up their first victory at the 2010 World Cup, and had to settle for a one-all draw in their group-opening match against Paraguay.

Edged on by thousands of fans, both local and Italian, Marcelo Lippi's Azurris, or "blues", failed to capitalise on four shots on goal.

Italy has beaten Paraguay in both previous encounters and on paper Italy looked the better team, particularly as it is placed fifth in the latest FIFA rankings, while Paraguay is ranked a distant 31.

But Lippi emphasised that the team was "there mentally and emotionally", but that the wet pitch proved to be difficult.

"The only thing I regret is that usually matches of these types we win," said Lippi, who added that the team still needed to grow in finishing the game.

Paraguayian coach Gerardo Martino said the draw against such a top side like Italy has given his side "much confidence" going forward in the remaining two group matches.

It was Paraguay that opened the scoring in the 39th minute when 27-year-old defender Antolin Alcaraz - who was later awarded man of the match - headed the ball off fellow defender Aurelianio Torres's penalty kick.

Italy fought back early in the second half, with an equaliser in the 63rd minute off Italian midfielder Daniele de Rossi.

The 26-year-old's ninth international goal, off a corner, sent the stadium's fans into rapturous applause.

The crowd went up soon afterwards when Ricardo Montolivo almost scored, but was pushed aside by a Paraguayian defender.

In the first 10 minutes of the second half, attempts by Simone Pepe and Riccardo Montolivo also failed, while a ball off the boot of Paraguayian midfielder Enrique Vera clipped the crossbar.

A subsequent go at goals by Italy was saved by Paraguayian keeper and captain Justo Villar.

Heavy rain fell over much of the match as fans came in their thousands to the match despite the 8-degrees Celsius night, rain and even a hail storm and hour and a half before the match.

Despite thousands coming to the match, empty seats dotted the stadium and even rows of five or more seats at a time lay open.

FIFA reported that 62 869 people attended the match - slightly under the stadium's capacity of 64 100.

Police have taken over from security services at Cape Town Stadium and Durban Stadium until further notice, after stewards' wage dispute with their employer Stallion Security Consortium.

Local organising committee CEO Danny Jordaan said it was an employee-employer wage dispute.

"Although we have respect for the workers' rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match-day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instance," said Jordaan.

Coach Lippi said despite the strike he never had any concern that the game would not go ahead.