Italy Starts World Cup Defense With Paraguay Tie; Netherlands, Japan Win

Italy started the defense of its World Cup soccer title last night with a 1-1 tie against Paraguay. The Netherlands and Japan both won their first games.

Italy, aiming to match Brazil’s record five titles, rallied in the second half in driving rain in Cape Town, South Africa, with Daniele De Rossi scoring after 63 minutes. Antolin Alcaraz gave Paraguay a 39th-minute lead in the Group F opener.

“We played well and deserved to win,” Italy coach Marcello Lippi told reporters. “Unfortunately, they scored from the only dangerous situation they created. Then we had a great reaction from our team, we responded well. But we have to be more effective.”

Italy, which has progressed from the group stage at the past eight World Cups, and Paraguay each have one point, with New Zealand and Slovakia set to play their first match today.

In yesterday’s Group E matches, the Netherlands won 2-0 against Denmark, while Japan beat Cameroon 1-0. The Netherlands, runner-up in 1974 and 1978, is now unbeaten in 20 matches.

New Zealand and Slovakia meet in Bloemfontein in the other game in Italy and Paraguay’s group. Brazil takes on North Korea in Johannesburg and Portugal and the Ivory Coast play in Port Elizabeth.

Italy struggled to assert itself in the first half against Paraguay, which led at halftime after Alcaraz outjumped Fabio Cannavaro and De Rossi to head a cross from Aureliano Torres past Gianluigi Buffon.

Defensive Problems

“We are not very happy,” defender Domenico Criscito said. “We had some problems with our defense. The defense is not like it was in 2006 in Germany.”

Paraguay, which has three times reached the round of 16, was looking for a first win against Italy.

The Italians replaced Buffon, who had a back problem, with Federico Marchetti at halftime, but Paraguay struggled to test his replacement as Italy started to take control.

Italy’s goal came after Paraguay keeper Justo Villar failed to collect a corner, allowing De Rossi to strike.

“We played good football in the second half,” Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro said. “Scoring a goal when you’re losing isn’t easy.”

Italy continues its campaign against New Zealand on June 20 before playing its final group game against Slovakia four days later.

Kuyt’s Goal

An own goal by Daniel Agger just after halftime and a late score by Dirk Kuyt gave the Dutch victory at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk described his team’s first- half performance as “tense” and frustrating.

“We wanted to play beautiful football but we lost the ball too often,” Van Marwijk said. “Things got better after the first goal, then you saw what we are capable of doing.”

Agger’s own goal was initially attributed to Simon Poulsen by world governing body FIFA before it changed its decision on reviewing television pictures. With five minutes left, Kuyt scored from three yards when substitute Eljero Elia’s shot bounced off the post.

Poulsen cleared Robin van Persie’s shot off the goal-line with two minutes left.

Sound of Horns

During the game, Van Persie gestured to French referee Stephane Lannoy that he couldn’t hear him whistle because of the din of fans blowing horns in the stands.

In Bloemfontein, Keisuke Honda received a cross from the right by Daisuke Matsui at the far post and struck the ball past goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou after 39 minutes to secure Japan’s win.

“Our defense did well today, but we need to be more aggressive in attack,” Japan coach Takeshi Okada said. “In the next game against the Netherlands, we need to go one step further.”

The country’s only previous World Cup victories came when it was co-host with South Korea eight years ago. That was the only time it has advanced beyond the group stage. Cameroon, a quarterfinalist in 1990, had never previously lost its opening game.

To contact the reporters on this story: James Cone in London at jcone@bloomberg.net. Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net

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