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Italy title defence faces tough Paraguay test

Cape Town: Champions Italy insist they have
the right mix of youth and experience to successfully defend
the World Cup, but there are lingering concerns ahead of a
tough opener against Paraguay on Monday.

Marcello Lippi`s ageing team kick-off a Group F here they
should top, with Slovakia and minnows New Zealand their other
hurdles.

Paraguay shape as their hardest test, but their
preparations have been far from ideal with a defeat to Mexico
and a draw with the Swiss, which has seen them come under
pressure from the Italian media.

In a better display, they beat local team the Guateng All
Stars 6-0 in a practice match on Friday with Lippi giving his
clearest indication yet of what his starting XI and formation
will be.

He played what seemed to be his top side for one hour in
a 4-3-3 system.

The defence comprised Gianluca Zambrotta and Domenico
Criscito flanking captain Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio
Chiellini in the centre ahead of Gianluigi Buffon.

With Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi rested with
injuries, Gennaro Gattuso joined Riccardo Montolivo and
Claudio Marchisio in midfield with Vincenzo Iaquinta and
Simone Pepe either side of Alberto Gilardino up front.

The ice-cool Lippi, who delivered a fourth world
championship to the country in 2006, is unconcerned about
their form, or worries that the squad is too old.

"We`ve got old players but age doesn`t mean broken down,
it means experience, charisma," he said.

"We`re used to matches at a high level, we have the right
mix with our young players."

Captain Cannavaro, who will retire after the tournament,
admitted the defence needed to be at its best to keep out
Paraguay.

"Defence is vital, but that doesn`t mean we`ll stay in
our own half of the pitch," said the 36-year-old, who is
coming off a poor season at Juventus.

"It means being compact. We`ll never play an attacking
game like Brazil, Portugal or Spain but they`ll never be able
to defend like us."

There are two ways of looking at Italy.

The first is that which Lippi is focussing on -- that
they are the holders, have bags of experience throughout the
team and a history and a culture of winning.

The other, though, is that they are in crisis with no
stars, a squad made up mostly of players unknown outside Italy
and a team that is usually less than convincing on the pitch.

Paraguay, on the other hand, are in great shape having
beaten Brazil and Argentina in qualifying.

They can no longer be considered minnows having reached
their fourth straight finals, with much of the credit given to
Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino who has managed to negotiate
a delicate transition phase for his team.

He has taken a new generation of players under his wing,
notably Nelson Haedo Valdez of Borussia Dortmund, Roque Santa
Cruz of Manchester City and Oscar Cardozo of Benfica in
attack.

Their tight and effective defensive unit is marshalled by
goalkeeper Justo Villar. Martino is confident his front line
can deliver the goals to beat Italy.

"Now there is so much variety in the attack of Paraguay,
who have never had this amount," he told reporters.

"In the past it has been attacking, but not like now -
alongside Haedo (Valdez) and Santa Cruz there is Oscar Cardozo
and Lucas Barrios.

"This is a team that is more complete than Paraguay teams
of the past. Hopefully we can make it the best World Cup for
Paraguay."

Bureau Report

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