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Champions Italy kick-off title defence today


Andrew Browne, [email protected]

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CAPE TOWN – Italy coach Marcello Lippi didn’t make any bold predictions before the Azzurri’s World Cup victory four years ago, and he certainly wasn’t about to change his ways before today’s opener with Paraguay.
“I didn’t tell you four years ago before Italy-Ghana that we were going to present you with an epic month,” Lippi said yesterday, referring to the 2-0 win in 2006 that set the tone for the Azzurri’s title run. “Great teams are born at big tournaments andgrow game-by-game. Hopefully we’ll start off well and grow from there.”
The Italians have appeared confused in recent friendlies and Lippi still appears uncertain over his line-up, especially with key midfielder Andrea Pirlo out with an injured left calf.
While Italy are out to discredit their critics, Paraguay are playing in honour of absent striker Salvador Cabanas, who is completing a remarkable recovery from a gunshot wound to the head in a Mexico City bar in January.
Appearing in their fourth consecutive World Cup, Paraguay have developed a solid defence under Martino, which allowed the team to qualify third in South America behind Brazil and Chile, and ahead of Argentina.
The impressive qualifying campaign included a 2-0 win over Brazil and a 1-0 victory over Argentina.
With Italy also traditionally defence-oriented, the game is shaping up as a low-scoring affair, although both coaches indicated they planned to go forward. (AP)

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