Italy began the defence of their title with a lacklustre performance against Paraguay, coming from behind to earn a 1-1 draw in the opening Group F game.
The South American side took the lead with a first half header from Antonin Alcaraz, but the holders levelled midway through the second half when Daniele De Rossi prodded home from close range.
On a wet and windy night in Cape Town, the world champions produced a unconvincing performance, and although they improved after falling behind, Marcello Lippi’s side remain very much a work in progress.
Lippi had left Serie A’s top goalscorer Antonio Di Natale on the bench, instead selecting Alberto Gilardino with Vincenzo Iaquinta out wide in 4-5-1 formation.
Gerardo Martino also omitted his two highest-profile forwards in Benfica’s Oscar Cardozo and Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz. Up front, Borussia Dortmund team-mates Lucas Barrios and Nelson Valdez were charged with taking the attack to the Italians.
Italy, playing like a team that was keen to dispel rumours of its decline, made all the early running and Claudio Morel had to be alert to stop Simone Pepe pouncing on a dangerous ball at the far post.
Paraguay appeared content to play a game of containment, keeping a disciplined 4-4-2 shape with which they gradually began to snuff out the Italian threat. However, Gerardo Martino’s side did enjoy the occasional foray forward and Aureliano Torres will have been disappointed to have dragged his shot wide midway through the half.
Italy were stunned six minutes before the break when Paraguay took the lead from a set-piece. Torres’ swung in a free-kick from deep and Alcaraz outjumped both De Rossi and Cannavaro to head past Buffon.
Buffon was surprisingly substituted at the break, replaced by Cagliari goalkeeper Federico Marchetti having reportedly suffered a back injury.
Lippi had to act and he sacrificed the ineffectual Claudio Marchisio for seasoned campaigner Mauro Camoranesi to go 4-4-2 shortly before the hour mark.
The move paid dividends as Italy immediately looked a more potent outfit. However, it from a corner that they finally made the pressure tell. Villar flapped at Pepe’s corner from the left, allowing a unmarked De Rossi to stab the ball home.
Santa Cruz, who was reported to be suffering from a recurrence of the knee injury that ruined his first season at Manchester City, replaced Valdez with 20 minutes remaining, but he was unable to make an impact as Paraguay seemed happy to settle for the draw.
Montolivo, who after a quiet start, was becoming a growing influence, came closest for Italy with an 83rd minute long-range effort which Villar did well to turn around the post. But that was as close as Lippi’s side came to earning a win and they too seemed happy to settle for a draw. It was scarcely any more than they deserved.
Italy 1-1 Paraguay
Italy: De Rossi 63
Paraguay: Alcaraz 39
Italy: 01 Buffon (Marchetti, 46), 03 Criscito, 04 Chiellini, 05 Cannavaro, Zambrotta, 06 De Rossi, 07 Pepe, 15 Marchisio (Camoranesi, 59), 22 Montolivo, 09 Iaquinta, 11 Gilardino (Di Natale, 72)
Paraguay: 01 Villar Captain, 03 Morel Rodriguez, 14 Da Silva, 17 Torres (Santana, 60), 21 Alcaraz, 06 Caceres, 13 Vera, 15 Caceres, 16 Riveros Nunez, 18 Valdez (Santa Cruz, 68), 19 Barrios (Cardozo, 76)
Referee: Benito Archundia Tellez