After months of anticipation, the Azzurriâ€™s World Cup campaign in South Africa kicked off last night, resulting in a 1-1 draw with Paraguay. As the incessant jibes at this â€˜oldâ€™ Italy got well under way, the world was quick to criticise a poor showing from Marcello Lippiâ€™s men...however having been prepared for a less than convincing performance, most Italians will be quietly pleased and confident for the remainder of the group stages.
De Rossi finds the equaliser
Having seen the majority of the worldâ€™s powerhouses struggle in their opening ties, with the exception of the impressive Germans, Italy can take heart from their second half performance and successfully coming from behind to deny Paraguay victory. Of course it would have been great to get off to a winning start, but that wasn't to be.
Let us not forget that Paraguay are a side who conquered both Brazil and Argentina in qualifying, and finished their campaign with a record number of points on the board. Last night was by no means a certainty, and my pre-match prediction of a draw was met with relief and contentment as the full-time whistle sounded in Cape Town.
With New Zealand on Sunday, followed by Slovakia next Thursday, the Azzurri can be fairly confident of finishing top of the group, especially after the Kiwisâ€™ late equaliser against the Slovaks. With tifosi expecting no less than 6 points, the pressure will now build on La Nazionale to perform and possibly show more of the glimpses of good football demonstrated in the second half.
With Lippi getting his tactics spot on with his second half substitutions, who were your star performers? Daniele de Rossi produced a display that Giallorossi fans will have been proud of despite his mistake for the goal, whilst the enigma that is Riccardo Montolivo grew as the game continued. Despite on-going criticism, il capitano Fabio Cannavaro proved his doubters wrong with a solid display alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Simone Pepe surprised many, including myself, with a decent show.
With Gigi Buffon picking up a knock, it is hoped the Bianconeri stopper will be ready for New Zealand, while elsewhere I expect to see changes for either Vincenzo Iaquinta or Alberto Gilardino who failed to impress.
Finally, having listened to the constant digs at how the â€˜old and defensiveâ€™ Italy had showed up, let me just take this chance to re-iterate a point I had made ahead of last nightâ€™s game which was documented in the pre-match build up. The average age of the England side that faced USA last Saturday stood at 28, while Italyâ€™s was also 28 at kick-off. With Gigi Buffon being replaced by Federico Marchetti at half-time, that fell to below 28, and had it not been for war veteran Cannavaro standing at an ever-green 36, this Italy side can finally shrug off its traditional stereotype and show the world what this new Italy has to offer.