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Italians open World Cup defense with draw

Italy fell behind, then lost its star goalkeeper for the second half. So a 1-1 World Cup draw with Paraguay in Cape Town, South Africa, should not have been disturbing for the defending champions.

Yet the Azzurri’s underwhelming, rain-soaked draw hardly was pleasing to coach Marcello Lippi, the same man who guided the Italians to their fourth championship in 2006.

“We need to do more and do it better. Our opponent didn’t do anything, they just kept things in check,” Lippi said.

The South Americans did enough for a tie. Defender Antolin Alcaraz scored on a header in the 39th minute of the Group F match.

“I can’t describe what I feel. Playing a World Cup is something very special,” Alcaraz said.

Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi equalized from close range in the 63rd after goalkeeper Justo Villar failed to handle a corner kick.

Already without injured midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Italy’s fortunes took another hit when it lost perhaps its most valuable player, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, after the first half. The 32-year-old Buffon was removed due to a back injury, replaced by inexperienced backup Federico Marchetti.

“He had a back problem. I hope he returns for the next game, but that will be up to the doctors,” Lippi said.

Buffon said not to worry, he will be ready. He said the problem was with his sciatic nerve and that he “hopes to recover in two days.”

Netherlands 2, Denmark 0: The Netherlands opened the scoring on an own goal and prevailed in Johannesburg even though its dangerous attack was stymied for much of the game.

The Dutch took the lead in the 46th minute when Denmark defender Simon Poulsen headed a ball off the back of teammate Daniel Agger and into the net. Poulsen was trying to clear a cross from Robin van Persie.

Dirk Kuyt doubled the lead in the 85th when he tapped in a rebound off the post from close range.

Denmark had frustrated the Dutch until the own goal with a compact midfield, and the Netherlands never came close to the free-flowing, high-scoring type of play their fans have become accustomed to, despite several other chances.

So the Netherlands had to rely on a bit of luck, as Van Persie beat an onrushing Thomas Sorensen to a long through ball down the left side early in the second half

Japan 1, Cameroon 0: Keisuke Honda scored as Japan got by uninspired Cameroon in Bloemfontein. Japan’s first World Cup win on foreign soil puts the Japanese at the top of Group E along with the Netherlands.

Japan broke the deadlock in the 39th minute when Daisuke Matsui’s curling cross from the right drifted over two defenders and fell to Honda at the back post. The striker neatly controlled the ball and slotted it past goalkeeper Hamidou Souleymanou.

Despite an attack led by Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon never really challenged Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima.

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