Italy open their World Cup campaign against Paraguay in a game the expectant public will only accept one result. Similarly as an adopted Azzurri, anything other than a comfortable Italian win will have me shouting Mama Mia and hurling spaghetti at the TV screen.
Roque Santa Cruz is the most familiar name within the Paraguay squad in Britain, also featuring Sunderland player Paulo da Silva. Cruz has had an indifferent season with Man City, often injured or on the bench for the majority of the campaign, but he is likely to be the key man here and if he performs as well as he did when at Blackburn Rovers he will be a threat.
However as I mentioned in my previous blog, many of the Italians are playing in their last World Cup, and they will not want to sour the memories of 2006 with a poor performance. Two players in the squad, Buffon and Cannavaro have over 100 caps for Italy, and Zambrotta will join them should Italy reach the Semi-Finals.
This shows the wealth of experience the World Champions can call on, and in reality the Azzurri should have too much for all the teams in their group. The only way I can see Italy struggling is if the giant dung beetle from the opening ceremony has any New Zealand, Paraguay or Slovakia heritage and receives a late call up to the squad.
An Internet search for 'interesting Paraguay facts' served up false advertising, as all the results should actually have come up for a search on 'incredibly boring things about Paraguay'. For example, did you know that at the last estimate in 2007, the population of Paraguay was 6,669,086? Also, The climate of the place is subtropical to temperate. There is adequate rainfall in the eastern portions, which becomes semi arid in the far west. Gran Chaco region has mostly low marshy plain. There are also thorny forests. Im sure you'll agree, fascinating. As difficult as it was to not defect to Paraguay and their 'thorny forest Barmy Army', I managed to resist.
With the average age of the Italian squad approaching that of a lawn bowls side rather than a team of World Cup contenders, presumably Lippi's training sessions are regularly interrupted by Diagnosis Murder breaks and arguments about who ate the last Werthers Original!
With the squad being able to travel to the next World Cup for free with their OAP bus passes, for many of them it will be all about legacy. The chance to write themselves into legend as the squad who won back to back World Cups and levelled their total of trophies with Brazil.
They will not want their last major international tournament memory to be one of failure. Unlike in England, there is no such thing as a 'glorious failure' when Italian football is involved, and anything other than Italy having to check in some shiny gold excess baggage on their flight home to Italy will be a major disappointment.
So my prediction for this contest is a solid 2-0 win for Italy. A goal in the first 20 minutes and then one in the last ten to wrap things up. De Rossi and Gilardino are my tips to get the goals. If you happen to back this at the bookies and it comes in, please contact me for my share of the winnings. I'll make you an offer you can't refuse..
Make way World Cup, the champs are coming!
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