Some random observations after the second group fixtures:
Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay: Early on, Slovakia looked tentative while Paraguay controlled possession, a much better attack than they showed in their first fixture. La Albirroja’s offense employs much of the Brazilian style of short quick passes and through balls, they just don’t execute it as well. However, Lucas Barrios expertly slipped a through ball to Enrique Vera speeding into open space in the box with a point blank shot that he did not miss. Slovakia played with no urgency in the first half and did not test the Paraguayan defense though they shed some of their tentativeness after allowing the goal. In the second half, Slovakia managed a few flurries of offense, but only one shot on goal and very few shots overall. Paraguay maintained pressure throughout, even after substituting another defender for a forward and barely missed several more goals before Christian Riveros slammed home a second goal while in the middle of three defenders, none of whom looked like they wanted to challenge him. Not much was expected of the Slovaks and they lived down to those expectations this day. While not technically eliminated yet, Italy should put them out of their misery in their final fixture. Paraguay is now in position to and should win Group F.
Italy 1-1 New Zealand: As with the Paraguay game, Italy’s normally reliable defense was vulnerable again on set pieces when the All Whites got Shane Smeltz behind the defense in the penalty area for a quick score. Looked like offside initially, but the side judge got the call right as the ball did not glance off the head of one of Smeltz’s teammates as it initially appeared. The Italians flopped all over the place and appeared to be trying to draw yellow cards on New Zealand. That is really shameful play against an opponent they should be crushing and it unfortunately paid off when Daniele De Rossi went down in the box and drew a penalty kick. There was some slight holding going on, but the great bit of acting drew a penalty kick. Vincenzo Iaquinta converted it easily. New Zealand were very aggressive before their goal, but were content to sit back on defense after. The Azzurri peppered lots of shots from outside the penalty area, likely in reaction to their inability to penetrate the box. In the second half, the All Whites went into the prevent defense with everyone falling back on defense. They looked like they were content to play for the draw. Marcello Lippi brought in a third striker, Giampaulo Pazzini, for a midfielder, no doubt hoping his speed would create some better opportunities, but this was in vain. With Italy’s inability to get good shots, one wonders if Lippi regrets his decision to leave Luca Toni and Francesco Totti (who offered to come out of retirement) off the squad. The Italian defense broke down and allowed a near goal by Chris Wood, who simply beat a defender off the dribble and took an unimpeded shot that just missed outside the far post. Unbelievable result with the Kiwis coming away with the draw. Major kudos to their defensive effort, which denied the Azzurri any good opportunities in the box. The Italians had 23 shots, but very few from close range. Every key stat went in the Italians favor…shots, shots on goal, corners, and possession, but the only stat that counts is the final score. The Azzurri will no doubt be pilloried in the press back home for this result. Italy will still likely advance with a win or tie against Slovakia. The All Whites came into this Cup without ever having scored a point and now have two points on the back to back ties. They could advance with a win over Paraguay or possibly a tie if the Italians cannot muster a better game against the Slovaks. The fact that they are in a position to possibly advance after two fixtures was unthinkable when the Cup began.