(Reuters) – Defending champions Italy take the field for the first time at the World Cup on Monday, pursued by a wave of negative domestic reporting that says they are too old and lack pace and imagination.
Sports | Italy
Coach Marcello Lippi’s insistence on keeping faith with the bulk of the team that won in Germany four years ago has angered Italian fans and sports reporters alike.
Combined with their tradition for infuriatingly slow starts they could be in danger from one of the lesser teams, an in-form Paraguay, when they meet in Cape Town in the evening.
While Italy will have to transform their recent displays to convince, all the top teams got a severe warning of the danger from a young German side on Sunday when they crushed Australia 4-0 in the most convincing win of the tournament so far.
Also on Monday, the Netherlands, who are brimming with confidence and another of the tournament favorites, will meet an injury-hit Denmark in the World Cup’s showpiece Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg.
After winning all their qualifying matches and showing strong form in their warm-ups, the biggest enemy for Netherlands could be overconfidence, although manager Bert van Marwijk is fast building a reputation as the tournament curmudgeon.
So far his list of complaints includes the new Jabulani tournament ball, the fans’ deafening vuvuzela trumpets and the hardness of South African pitches.
But he is blessed with one of the tournament’s most deadly strike forces of Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and winger Arjen Robben, although the latter will be out of the Denmark match with a hamstring injury.
The Dutch have not lost to Denmark for 43 years — apart from a penalty shootout defeat in Euro 1992 — but the Danes believe they can possibly catch their over-confident opponents napping as the unfancied side with nothing to lose.
LIONS WANT TO DEVOUR JAPANESE
In the other Group E match on Monday, Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions, one of the tipped African teams, will expect to dismember underdogs Japan, who have never won a World Cup match on foreign soil and are struggling to score goals.
Cameroon, who thrust African soccer power into the spotlight in the 1990 World Cup by reaching the quarter-finals, will be spearheaded by striker Samuel Eto’o, one of the continent’s finest players.
They will hope to emulate Ghana, another African favorite, who took the continent’s first victory in Africa’s inaugural World Cup on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Serbia through a late and well-taken penalty by Asamoah Gyan.
The match transformed Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld stadium, home of Springbok rugby, to a theater of African football, with the Black Star’s fans dressed in striking outfits in the national colors of green yellow and red, jiving throughout to the sounds of vuvuzela trumpets.
Ghana, who have a special place in African history as the first nation to win freedom from colonial rule in 1957, are among a record six continental sides in this tournament.
The victory brought double joy to Ghana’s pineapple-growing village of Oboadaka, where around 200 people danced and cheered after watching a World Cup live, many for the first time, thanks to a television powered by solar energy. The village is not connected to the electricity grid.
Goalkeepers are making headlines at this World Cup with an awful gaffe by Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi, fumbling a shot by Slovenia captain Robert Koren on Sunday, to follow the schoolboy howler by England’s Robert Green on Saturday.
Chaouchi’s bungle gave Slovenia a 1-0 victory after the North African side were reduced to 10 men.
Both Algeria and Slovenia’s coaches joined complaints about the new high-bouncing Jabulani ball, adding to concerns over the semi-synthetic pitches being used in both Polokwane, where they played, and Nelspruit. Both new stadiums had problems with the original turf.
(Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Jon Bramley)