CAPE TOWN - When the World Cup draw sent both 2006 finalists to Cape Town for their first matches the locals were delighted but having seen Italy and France in action they could be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about.
It is a toss-up to decide which of the two marquee European forces were more feeble against their respective opponents.
France had one decent chance in their boring goalless draw with Uruguay last Friday and the holders were only marginally better as they drew 1-1 with Paraguay on Monday.
France and Italy are by no means alone in failing to explode out of the blocks and, particularly in Italy's case, a slow start is the norm rather than the exception.
With New Zealand and Slovakia to come in their group, a draw against a Paraguay side who finished second in South American qualifying on the back of wins over Brazil and Argentina is hardly a stunning setback.
Defeat would have been, however, and it looked a distinct possibility after Antolin Alcaraz headed in a free kick after 39 minutes of largely anonymous action in pouring rain on Monday.
Italy levelled through Daniele De Rossi in the 63rd minute after Justo Villar added his name to the growing list of goalkeeping blunderers when he flailed wildly at a corner.
The most positive aspect for Italy was that after the equaliser, and particularly in the last 10 minutes, they really pressed for the winner when previously their natural instinct would probably have been to sit back and secure the point.
Paraguay maintained their impressive, disciplined defence to keep them out and, though there must be concerns about their lack of creativity and penetration, the Italian camp and even their hyper-critical media had few complaints.
"More light than dark," was the headline on Gazetta dello Sport's website, while coach Marcello Lippi, who said before the match he would be happy with a draw, was reasonably upbeat and maintained his long-term view.
"We have to grow and continue the work we have done," he said. "We are only at the beginning."
The players took a similar view, though there was also a general disappointment that they had failed to win.
"Our second-half performance was very good because we scored one and, when you are losing, that is not easy psychologically," said captain Fabio Cannavaro. "We played good football in the second half."
Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo nicely summed up the tactical conundrum that gives football such enduring and worldwide appeal.
"Once they went 1-0 up we came back a bit to defend to make sure we didn't go 2-0 down. We didn't want to lose the first game," he said.
"We were too stressed about the start of the World Cup but after the effort and heart we put into this game, I think it shows we can win the next two."
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was replaced by Federico Marchetti at halftime because of a sciatic nerve problem that gave him leg and back pain.
He is hoping to return against New Zealand on June 20 but team doctors said they would run tests on him on Tuesday."comments