Italy has always been a slow starter, especially in world cups. For their world cup opener against Paraguay, they had to pick four relatively new international players in the start line-up. Paraguay gave them a run for their money by scoring first unexpectedly. The header from Alcaraz was too good for a misplaced Gigi Buffon. One would have thought that this could put the world champions on the back foot; one because it was a shock, and two because Italy’s recent form hasn’t been any great.
But what we saw in Cape Town was a focused and resilient Italy in the second half. There was only one team in the second half and all the time the ball was in the Paraguayan half. Simone Pepe for his known speed was too good for the opposition to handle. He played along the right side in the first half and along the left in the second. And quite rewardingly, the equaliser and a breath of life came back to Italy from his corner. All De Rossi had to do was make the contact with the ball at the right time. Italy would have been in a better position had Montolivo not wasted a golden opportunity in the first half. What was relieving was to see Camoranesi taking the field in the second half. Marchetti’s replacement of Buffon came as a surprise.
With New Zealand holding Slovakia in the dying stages of their group match, all the teams can rest on one point each, much to the relief of the world champions. Italy now faces New Zealand in Nelspruit in their second Group F match on Sunday.