Italy’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay wasn’t completely unexpected. Paraguay beat Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, and led all of South America for a long time during qualifying. They are good on the counter, organize well defensively, and actually have a ton of attacking talent. Oscar Cardozo, Lucas Barrios (who is actually an Argentine), Roque Santa Cruz…
* At one point during the Italy Paraguay game, there were two Argentines from Buenos Aires on the field, one for each team: Lucas Barrios and Camorenesi.
It was a little disappointing that there was so much rain, but there’s no doubt Italy controlled the game. The goal for Paraguay came against the run of play, although I didn’t find it surprising, having seen Paraguay play. Italy had to press, but to my mind they didn’t really create that many clear chances. When they get behind, the lack of a playmaker like Giuseppe Rossi is pretty apparent. Italy got its goal by what was basically a goalie error.
All this leads into tomorrow’s first game: Slovakia v New Zealand. Those are two of the biggest minnows of the World Cup and are very unlikely to advance. Still, Marek Hamsik is someone who could definitely help himself get to a big club in Europe with a solid performance.
Following that is probably the best game of the “first games” of the first round. England v US was pretty big, but Ivory Coast and Portugal is pretty massive. The other two teams in that group are North Korea and Brazil: arguably the worst and best team to qualify for the World Cup finals, respectively. I would argue that Ivory Coast is probably one of the most underrated countries heading into the World Cup, although they have had alot of recent adversity, including the injury to Didier Drogba and replacing their coach with…yikes, Sven Goran Eriksson (not someone I rate).
Portugal has had a couple important injuries recently as well, but still boast a team that doesn’t have too much pressure on it, has Cristiano Ronaldo and his diving ability, and pretty well rested. Compare that to a squad like England and Portugal has some intangibles on its side.
To date, African teams haven’t seemed to have any great home advantage, but it will be interesting to see the crowd tomorrow. It will be a killer if FIFA doesn’t allow Didier Drogba to play (although the play in which he injured himself was his own fault as he essentially karate scissorkicked the opposing player).
Finally, it’s not impossible that Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal end up in something of a three way tie, so beating North Korea by alot could be key for goal differential. I would expect Brazil to pump in 5 goals or so, which could help determine who scores the most goals in the World Cup.
To tell you the truth, I think Portugal is likely to have the edge, in large part because of manager, but I will be rooting for the Ivory Coast.