Monday, 14 June 2010

World champions Italy 1, Paraguay 1... and the reign may soon be over

Italy clawed their way to a point against underdogs Paraguay – but the world champions’ reign looked uncertain in the rain of Cape Town.

The South Americans, ranked 31 in the world, were the stronger side for an hour. After 39 minutes Aureliano Torres swung in a free-kick and Antolin Alacaraz rose above Fabio Cannavaro and Daniele de Rossi to head home beautifully.

With an upset on the cards against the holders, ranked fifth in the world, looked to have no way back until Paraguan goalkeeper Justo Villar produced an error very bit as bad as Robert Green’s in its own way.

He came out to slap at Simone Pepe’s 63rd minute corner, missed completely, and Daniele De Rossi prodded home the equaliser. For the rest of the game, Italy piled on the pressure – but were unable to produce the first come-from-behind victory of this World Cup.

In Bloemfontein, Japan beat Cameroon 1-0 in Group E with CSKA Moscow’s KeisukeHonda engineering the only goal after 39 minutes.

Cameroon, Africa’s highest-ranked side here at 19, had never lost their opening game and reached the quarter-finals in 1990 – the continent’s best-ever performance.

French coach Paul Le Guen, the former Rangers boss, inexplicably left Arsenal’s Alex Song on the bench and appeared to be playing the great Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o as a right midfielder.

Cameroon were lacklustre throughout, though they awoke in the last five minutes to hit a post in the last minute through Stephane M’Bia. Le Guen lamented: Le Guensaid: "I’m upset that we have lost - our attitude was wrong. We were tense and nervous, especially in the first half. We did not show what we are capable of. We were not at our level and kept losing possession.”

Should have started with Song then, surely? Japan boss Takeshe Okad, who saw his side lose all five of their World Cup warm-up games, said: “I don’t think it was a great success – what’s important is the next game.”

That’s against Holland in Durban on June 19. The Dutch remain favourites to win Group C after a comfortable 2-0 win over Denmark. They didn’t sparkle at Soccer City in the opening game on day four, but an own goal by Danish defender Daniel Agger and a tap-in from Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt proved too much for the not-so-great Danes.

Dutch boss Bert van Marwijk was going orange in the face at time and growled: "I have said 100,000 times that sometimes we are arrogant and that might backfire on us, and I have told my players from day one and we must not fall into that trap."

Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba is awaiting permission from FIFA to play with as cast on his broken arm before their opening clash against Portugal in Port Elizabeth tomorrow.

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