Villar flap fails to hide Italy limitations

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PRETORIA - Holders Italy were gifted a goal and a lifeline in their 1-1 Group F draw with Paraguay on Monday where they again took their slow starter tag to extremes.

The game was even, with Paraguay arguably deserving their point despite some late Italy pressure, against world champions only in name not stature.

The South Americans were robbed of a famous victory by some kamikaze keeping from Justo Villar, who inexplicably missed the ball with his punch from a corner to allow Daniele De Rossi to poke in the 63rd minute equaliser.

NEWS: Italy held by Paraguay

Paraguay's opener was also due to frailties at the back, in fact at the very heart of Italy's team.

Fabio Cannavaro, Italy's most capped player with 134 appearances, is half the centre back he was when inspiring Italy to glory four years ago but coach Marcello Lippi sticks by him just as he does with other World Cup winners.

At 36, Cannavaro has lost pace and positional sense but the continual problem of his lack of height, which he managed to hide masterfully in Germany, almost cost Italy dear.

The captain, set for a comfortable semi-retirement in Dubai after the tournament, did not even jump for the ball as Paraguay's Antolin Alcaraz made it 1-0 on 39 minutes by planting a perfect header which goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon could do nothing about.

The injury-prone goalkeeper was substituted with a knock at half time, a development which will worry Lippi given the inexperience of deputy Federico Marchetti.

Italy started brightly enough amid the Cape Town downpour but clear-cut chances were rare in the first hour with the strikers leaving the shooting to the midfielders.

ENERGETIC PEPE

Vincenzo Iaquinta, a striker for Juventus and right-footed, was completely lost on the left of midfield and Alberto Gilardino often became isolated up front alone.

The result though can not really be blamed on the absence of midfielder and 2006 hero Andrea Pirlo, who hopes to be back from a calf problem for the third group game against Slovakia at least.

Riccardo Montolivo played in place of Pirlo and pushed forward much more than his more illustrious team mate ever does.

Pirlo tends to stand on the halfway line pinging 40 metre passes, a tactic which did not serve Italy particularly well in qualification, and his return will not offer an instant answer.

One key decision Lippi did make was to prefer Simone Pepe to Antonio Di Natale out wide despite the latter being Serie A top scorer last season with 29 goals for Udinese.

Energetic Pepe had some sniffs and may keep his place.

Di Natale came on and at least Italy did really push for a win at the end which Azzurri sides of the past would not have done, with a partial switch to 4-4-2 from the fitful 4-2-3-1 offering more width and more food for thought for Lippi.

But such is Italy's lack of confidence that no risks can be taken and victory against New Zealand in their next group game in Nelspruit on June 20 is by no means a given with this side.

Paraguay were not wonderful - they did not need to be.

They have a precious draw and can look forward to supposedly easier games against Slovakia and New Zealand.

They took their chance when it came and even posed several more threats while being dogged in defence as the heavens persistently poured down on the Green Point Stadium.

New Zealand and Slovakia's lack of World Cup pedigree is one of the few crumbs of comfort for Lippi.

Another is that Italy have been in this position many times before and have still gone on to the latter stages even if this time they lack real world class talent with the likes of the ageing Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi left at home.

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