Reuters Soccer Blog
World Soccer views and news
Back in the time of tight shorts and second round group stages, the World Cup was very different. Except for Italy that is.
In 1982 the Azzurri drew their three first round group games but still sneaked their way into the second round. A 0-0 draw with Poland, a 1-1 draw with Peru and a 1-1 draw against Cameroon were met with howls of derision but the tradition of Italy being slow starters was born.
Fast forward three decades and the same is happening again. A 1-1 draw with Paraguay and Sunday’s shock 1-1 draw against 78th ranked New Zealand have left the world champions in a pickle but another stalemate against Slovakia on Thursday will be enough to put them though with three points if Paraguay defeat the Kiwis.
No one is talking about Italy successfully defending their title this year, not even coach Marcello Lippi and his team given their slow approach play, lack of ideas and uncharacteristic weakness at the back.
New Zealand could not quite pull off a win over Italy in their second Group F game on Sunday but a 1-1 draw still represented an extraordinary achievement.
New Zealand are at number 78 in the FIFA rankings and began the tournament as 1,000-1 outsiders while Italy are the World champions yet you would never have known it from the game in Nelspruit.
A portly South African student joined in Italy training on Thursday but got more than he bargained for when he lost his shorts trying a diving header and was later asked to step aside.
The world champions had invited a talented club player to take part in their session given they had unequal numbers with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Andrea Pirlo missing through injury.
The standard of goalkeeping in the early stages of this World Cup has not been the best but blame cannot lie with the controversial Jabulani ball.
Keepers and even strikers have criticised the adidas ball for being too light but the makers have said it is the roundest and truest ball ever created.
World champions Italy arrived in South Africa on Wednesday but there wasn’t much of a fanfare.
Around twenty fans turned up to greet them at Johannesburg airport, nothing in comparison with the vast numbers of South Africans dancing beneath my window in Pretoria right now. They are blowing their vuvuzelas wildly for no apparent reason, they are just so excited the World Cup kicks off in two days.
It’s been a funny build-up to the World Cup for holders Italy.
The words “South Africa” have barely been mentioned in the last week despite the Azzurri being huddled up in an Alpine ski resort trying to get used to altitude conditions.
Hardly anyone has talked about the World Cup with the focus instead being on a new coach after the tournament and which clubs players will be at next season.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi says we won’t know until next week whether Francesco Totti will come out of international retirement at the World Cup.
It’s unclear if the wait is because Totti has not decided yet, Lippi has not made up his mind or they are just building the tension ready for the announcement of the 30-man preliminary squad on May 11.
Cassano’s supporters have been silenced by his recent form and injury problems, along with the frosty relations with club coach Luigi Del Neri that suggest he may not have subdued the temperament issues that dogged him in the past — the apparent reason Lippi consistently overlooked him.
Ronaldinho has been left out of Brazil’s squad for next month’s friendly with Ireland, making it highly unlikely he will make Dunga’s list of 23 for June’s World Cup.
It’s quite a come down for the former world player of the year but he has been having a much better season at AC Milan following three years of problems.