ITA 1 PAR 1: Balls

IT’S a close thing, but the jabulani is becoming even less popular than the vuvuzela in certain quarters at this World Cup.

So far, the official tournament ball (described by one unnamed Australian player as “something plastic you might buy at a petrol station”) has been accused of embarrassing Robert Green and Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi, and of hampering Holland’s natural passing style.

(The jabulani has also been blamed for Greece’s economic meltdown, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and James Corden’s continuing presence on ITV night after night.)

What a relief, then, to see a goalkeeping howler which can’t possibly be put down to the jabulani. Thank you Justo Villar.

Paraguay’s goalkeeper joined the list of calamity custodians in Cape Town last night, flapping through the air like Trainee Superman as he missed Simone Pepe’s corner by at least a couple of feet, then crashing to the ground just as Daniele de Rossi poked the ball into the net behind him.

It saved Italy, aging, creaking Italy, who are either making one of their famous slow starts that ends with them lifting the trophy a month later, or one of their famous slow starts that ends with them being dumped out in the last 16. On last night’s evidence, I’d go for the latter.

Their 2006 World Cup win was built on a strong defence, which was nowhere to be seen as Antolin Alcaraz brilliantly headed in Aureliano Torres’ free kick to give Paraguay a half-time lead.

Fabio Cannavaro, once arguably the best centre-back in the world, looks every day of his 36 years now. Gianluigi Buffon, still arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, only played half the game due to a back injury.

I wouldn’t bet on Italy retaining their trophy, and neither would many others. They were 8/1 at the start of the tournament. If they fail in their defence, the last thing they will be able to blame is the ball.

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