Wednesday 21 March 2018

Villar gaffe gifts point to Italians

Italy 1
Paraguay 1

Mark Ogden

IN A World Cup that is developing the narrative of a goalkeeper's nightmare, Paraguay's Justo Villar emulated Robert Green and Algeria's Faouzi Chaouchi with a costly error that spared Italy a defeat in the first game of their title defence.

Having fallen behind to Antolin Alcaraz's first-half opener, Italy appeared on course to suffer the fate of Argentina in 1990 and France in 2002 with an opening defeat as world champions.

But Villar, the Paraguay captain, gifted Italy a point by terribly misjudging Pepe's corner to allow Daniele de Rossi to score a face-saving equaliser on 63 minutes.

Italy's warm memories of their procession to a fourth World Cup in Germany four years ago, when their success was earned during a heatwave, would probably have been blown away as soon as Marcelo Lippi's players opened their curtains yesterday morning to be greeted by the kind of greyness associated with a January morning in Manchester.

Or Milan, for that matter.


The Cape Doctor, the fabled south-easterly wind which delivers the icy chill of the South Atlantic to Cape Town, had done its best to bring winter to the Mother City in time for the world champions' first game in the defence of their trophy.

Incessant wind and rain battered the Green Point Stadium throughout the day before growing in intensity as the game kicked off in front a crowd of multicoloured raincoats. It was as though somebody had emptied a giant bag of skittles, save for the grey ones. They were the empty seats, a developing curse of South Africa 2010.

Whether it was the weather or their four-day wait to get the defence of their title under way, Italy appeared ill at ease from the start against the Paraguayans.

A crude challenge by Cristian Riveros on Riccardo Montolivo inside the opening 60 seconds certainly gave the Italians warning of Paraguay's intent and, missing the injured playmaker Andrea Pirlo, Lippi's players struggled to impose themselves on Gerardo Martino's team.

Pirlo's absence robbed the Italians of their creative heartbeat, the player whose economical use of the ball proved so crucial in Germany four years.

And although they dominated possession in the first half, Italy were unable to do anything with it.

Paraguay still had to resist some dangerous set-piece deliveries into their penalty area, with Alcaraz clearing a dangerous Pepe free-kick at the far post before an even more crucial interception to direct a Claudio Marchisio corner over the crossbar.

Lacking the powerful attacking presence provided by Luca Toni and Christian Vieri in recent World Cups, Italy were unable to take advantage of their probing crosses and Paraguay stunned Lippi's team by snatching the lead through Alcaraz on 39 minutes.

The defender, whose free transfer move from Club Brugge to Wigan was completed by the astute Roberto Martinez last month, outjumped the Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro to head Aureliano Torres' free-kick beyond the stretching Gianluigi Buffon.

Buffon, who opted to turn out with black tights under his shorts, was then replaced by substitute goalkeeper Federico Marchetti at half-time due to a suspected sciatic nerve.

Paraguay, who secured third place behind Brazil and Chile in the South American qualifiers, might lack the thoroughbred power of their more celebrated continental rivals, but their confidence grew following Alcaraz's goal and they came close to extending their lead when Enrique Vera's right-foot effort flew narrowly wide of the near post on 55 minutes.

That escape prompted Lippi to replace the ineffective Marchisio with the experience of Mauro Camoranesi and the Juventus midfielder immediately added an energy and presence to the Azzurri midfield.

Italy's equaliser was a result of good fortune rather than an inspired change on Lippi's part. Had Villar been able to collect Pepe's corner, the Italians would have been left to continue to scratch around in search of a goal. But Villar didn't collect the corner. He missed it completely, his left arm outstretched like a Superman imitator as the ball flew past and dropped to De Rossi, who bundled it into the back of the net.

Another 'keeper, another gaffe. And just like Green and Chaouchi, Villar only has himself to blame. (©Daily telegraph, London)

Italy -- Buffon (Marchetti 46), Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito, De Rossi, Marchisio (Camoranesi 59), Montolivo, Pepe, Gilardino (Di Natale 72), Iaquinta.

Paraguay -- Villar, Bonet, Alcaraz, Da Silva, Morel Rodriguez, Vera, Victor Caceres, Riveros, Torres (Santana 60), Haedo Valdez (Santa Cruz 68), Barrios (Cardozo 76).

Ref -- BA Tellez (Mexico).

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