Champion Italy, Paraguay draw 1-1
JOHANNESBURG - Defending champion Italy came from behind to avoid an upset against Paraguay on Monday, while unfancied Japan broke African hearts with the country’s first World Cup win on foreign soil against Samuel Eto’o-led Cameroon.
The fourth day of World Cup action featured enough on-field excitement to return the world’s attention back to football, after the first serious unrest of the tournament saw South African police in Durban use tear gas and rubber bullets in the early hours of the day to quell a protest by stadium stewards. Italy, whose aging team has been largely written off despite its No. 5 world ranking, was stunned by a first-half opener from Paraguay. The South Americans were dreaming of another upset after qualifying wins over Brazil and Argentina.
But the resilient “Azzurri” (Blues) evened the game in the second half through a scrambled goal by Daniele De Rossi. Paraguay, one of the poorest nations in Latin America and with a population of only six million people, has had to overcome the loss of striker Salvador Cabanas, who is recovering after being shot in the head at a Mexican night club in January.
So far, Ghana is the only team from the continent to have won its opening round match in Africa’s first World Cup.
In Monday’s other match, the Netherlands notched a comfortable 2-0 victory against Denmark but failed to show the exciting, attacking football for which they are renowned.
The Dutch team went ahead courtesy of a freak own goal when a header by Danish player Simon Poulsen off of a Dutch cross rebounded off of fellow defender Daniel Agger and rolled into the net. Dirk Kuyt scored the second goal in the dying moments of the match.
The surprise of the day though was Japan, whose terrible form in the run-up to the World Cup had led some to assume that the Asian squad would be easily dispatched by Cameroon’s “Indomitable Lions,” which includes three-time African Player of the Year Eto’o.
Hoping to recapture the form that led them to the quarterfinals in 1990 and one of Africa’s best hopes for a deep run in the tournament, Cameroon looked disorganized and repeatedly failed to feed their front three. Japan came to the game in the chilly central city of Bloemfontein after scoring only one goal in their previous five matches combined, including a 0-0 draw against Zimbabwe last week, in a game which was organized at the last minute with the intention of boosting the Asian squad’s confidence.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s vuvuzela horns, variously compared to the noise of charging elephants or swarming bees, are providing a raucous backdrop to the games and have polarized opinion around the world.
While some see them as providing a bit of local flavor, others want the ubiquitous colorful plastic trumpets banned because they prevent players and coaches from communicating. Despite the roaring trade in ear-plugs in South Africa at the moment, local organizers were adamant on Monday that the horns are not going to disappear anytime soon.
“Vuvuzelas are here to stay and will never be banned,” said Rich Mkhondo, a spokesman for the local World Cup committee.
Fans were also looking forward yesterday to some intriguing matches on the docket. Secretive North Korea were slated to face five-time world champ Brazil, while Ivory Coast were sweating over the fitness of Didier Drogba ahead of their clash with Portugal.
When not playing or training, players were treated like royalty at their luxury hideaways. Chef Geoffrey Murray said he was baking about 120 baguettes a day, while croissants, crepes and brioche were also in hot demand at the coastal hotel housing the French squad.
Celebrity cook Tim De’Ath, who has worked as a personal caterer for Hollywood stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio, was cheering up England with afternoon hot chocolate after their disheartening tie against the United States.
Argentina’s manager Diego Maradona was not so fortunate, however. Agriculture officials stopped his team from flying in prime steak from South America.
Around the world, fans were cramming round TV screens in bars, homes, offices and parks to enjoy the games. Power cuts, though, have enraged Zambians and provoked riots in Bangladesh. The developed world has seen its share of problems too. English fans were outraged when broadcaster ITV inexplicably cut to a commercial during a goal by their team.