World Cup: Paraguay Tries to Be Italy, Almost Beats Italy

Cameroon vs. Japan Japan's Keisuke Honda, back left, scores the opening goal past Cameroon goalkeeper Souleymanou Hamidou, right, and Cameroon's Stephane Mbia, left, during the World Cup group E soccer match between Japan and Cameroon at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Monday, June 14, 2010. Japan earned its first World Cup victory on foreign soil with a 1-0 victory over Cameroon. Special Section: 2010 World Cup
AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
Paraguay's team poses for a photo at the World Cup. The Paraguayans tied Italy, the last World Cup champion, in their first match of the tournament.
AP Photo/Patrick B. Kraemer

People rarely feel good when they are exposed to their own behavior.

So perhaps someone among the Paraguayan football coaching department suggested, in a fit of Freudian fun, that his team should face Italy in its first World Cup game and pretend to be Italian.

A 1-1 draw suggested it almost worked.

Should you be unaware of how the world's most beautiful country plays the world's ugliest football, Italy's principles are simple.

Think negative first. Score one goal, preferably from a set piece. Then sit back, tug shirts and tweak nerves.

Yet Monday it was Paraguay who thought venturing into opposing territory was an excessively risky proposition.

In fact, before Alcaraz scored the Paraguayan goal--from a set piece, grazie--his team had only touched the ball twice in the opposing penalty area.

And this was the 39th minute.

Paraguay's engaging strategy had one bizarre consequence. The Italians were forced to attempt something they hadn't managed in at least 10 years: play soccer.

You know, go forward, beat a man, make a vertical pass. Hey, try a shot, even.

To be extremely fair to the Italians, they weren't very good at it. It was like watching a monk tell a dirty joke. The timing just wasn't there.

Indeed, the Italians seemed so embarrassed by their own peculiar behavior that they called for Mauro Camoranesi, who played in their eternally dull World Cup team of four years ago, as if he was supposed to slap the team to its negative senses.

Camoranesi brought the spirit of the Camorra mafia, by first getting a yellow card and then continuing to offer sly cleats when he hoped the referee's eyes were elsewhere.

In the meantime, Paraguay thought the joke had gone too far. Clearly feeling sorry for what it had done, it offered the Italians an arm around the shoulder. Or rather an arm around thin air.

Goalkeeper Justo Villar was just vilifiable for the way he wandered out of his goal at a corner, flapped like a grandmother trying to kill a fly with a spoon, allowing the ball to fall kindly to De Rossi who was no more than two yards from the Paraguayan goal.

Order had been restored. The Italians had scored from a set piece.

However, they still appeared to forget themselves by continuing to go forward and multiply their attacks. Their execution, however, was that of a one-eyed contractor adding some flourishes to the Sistine Chapel.

Both teams might look at this as two points lost. In truth, though, the two most important points are New Zealand and Slovakia, who play on Tuesday.

The New Zealanders may, indeed, prove to be the worst team ever to have graced the World Cup Finals. Slovakia should offer a decent test, but one cannot imagine it would have the imagination to imitate the Italian way.

In the two earlier games, Holland showed class and verve in beating Denmark 2-0. Even if the opening goal was the football equivalent of Double Dutch: A Double Danish.

First, Denmark's Simon Poulsen turned his head far too early, as if he hadn't recognized the change-up, in attempting a clearance. The ball bounced off his head, then off the back of teammate Daniel Agger and into the goal.

The Dutch, though, deserved to win handsomely against the tepid Danes.

Japan's Keisuke Honda, back left, scores the opening goal past Cameroon goalkeeper Souleymanou Hamidou, right, and Cameroon's Stephane Mbia, left, during the match between Japan and Cameroon.
Bernat Armangue

The Japanese recorded their first ever win in a World Cup Finals on foreign soil, defeating the clearly disjointed Cameroon. Keisuke Honda's well-taken goal couldn't really make up for a game of poor quality played in front of a considerable number of empty seats.

The Japanese team is known as the Blue Samurai. While the Italians call themselves the Azzurri. It's a curious thing in both cases that their national flags don't contain any blue.

The Japanese have only recently taken on the Blue Samurai nickname. Their team used to merely carry the name of its coach as its nickname. (Which, in the days when Frenchman Philippe Troussier was in charge, must have offered some curiously pronounced chants.)

The Italians, on the other hand, wear blue because it was the official color of the Savoia family, which ruled Italy until the end of World War II.

What a changing of the guard it would be if the Blue Samurai qualified and The Royal House of Italy did not.

Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.

See also:

Pictures: Opening rounds of the World Cup

World Cup: Germany and Ghana Buzz the U.S. team

World Cup: U.S. Lets England Put Egg on Its Own Face

South Africa Shows the World How Soccer Is Celebrated

Guess Who Will Win the World Cup

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.