Italy 1 - 1 Paraguay
De Rossi 63 Alcaraz 39
Well that was a bit better. Mick McCarthy might have thought it was a dull game, but he probably hadn't had to sit through Japan and Cameroon. He did give us a classic McCarthyism (as it were). If you know he's offside, if it's a free one, you give him a good kick there, he said. In other words, if you're a defender, an attacker's just got past you and you see the offside flag so you know you can't give away a penalty, hurt him as much as you can because you won't be penalised for it. Mick McCarthy, there, the UN's only Badwill Ambassador. I just hope they're keeping an eye on him in the Hague.
Having said the game was an improvement on the one before, I can't help but notice that the first incident I deemed noteworthy came twenty minutes in. Paraguay, first corner, it says. Not sure what happened on the corner, except it clearly wasn't worth writing down.
On twenty two minutes, Montolivo blocked a Paraguayan clearance and got in a shot. It was easily saved. A minute later Torres had a shot at the other end. He didn't get a clear strike in and it went wide, but things were looking up.
Especially for Alcaraz. After half an hour, he cleared a dangerous dipping corner over the bar just before an Italian forward could get their foot on it. Ten minutes later he was just as forceful in attack, jumping above the entire Italian defence to get his head on a free kick and steer it in.
It took us all a bit by surprise, to be honest, particularly the Italians. Kicking and jumping are traditionally well within their skillset, and they don't expect to be beaten to the ball by the same guy twice, at opposite ends of the field. They went into a baffled sulk until ten minutes into the second half, when Pepe tried a rather ambitious overhead kick from ten yards out.
He didn't connect, and it was back to the baffled sulking for a while. In the end the Paraguayan keeper Villar solved their problem for them, flapping rather pathetically at a corner without making contact. The ball fell kindly for De Rossi, who just tapped it in.
It was just like the good old days. Few chances, error strewn performances, and then we got a good traditional shoulder barge. Da Silva on Montolivo, no penalty, no appeal. McCarthy's favourite moment of the match.
Santana had another good chance for Paraguay, when Lucas played it back to him from the goal line. He mishit it though, and it went just wide. They then brought on Roque Santa Cruz, in the hope that he might turn up in my notes sometime afterwards, but they were destined to be disappointed. In fact the game rather stumbled to its conclusion. Both sides will be OK with a draw, especially Paraguay, but Slovakia will feel they've got a great chance to jump ahead in the group when they play New Zealand.