Italy fell behind, then lost its star goalkeeper for the second half. So a 1-1 World Cup draw with Paraguay yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa, should not have been all that disturbing for the defending champion.
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, with defender Antolin Alcaraz scoring 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 a miscue by goalkeeper Justo Villar.
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 2 days."
De Rossi made up for the opening goal, sliding in to redirect a corner kick from Simone Pepe. It was a solid start for the midfielder who was suspended for four games during Italy's victorious 2006 run after bloodying the face of U.S. forward Brian McBride with a sharp elbow.
After a day of often intense rain, the match kicked off under a drizzle, leaving the field slippery. Temperatures stood at 46 degrees, but the swirling winds coming off the ocean made it feel colder.
There were relatively few fans from Italy and Paraguay among the near-capacity crowd of 62,869 at Green Point Stadium, although the usual buzz of vuvuzelas made it difficult to determine exactly who was rooting for whom.
"It was a good result, though we can't say we played really well," Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino said. "We have to take into account who is who. It's not easy to play first against the last world champion."
Italy started with six holdovers from its 2006 squad, and with Riccardo Montolivo replacing Pirlo.
Martino left Roque Santa Cruz on the bench and started a two-man forward line of Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios.
After De Rossi's equalizer, Italy's best chance for victory came in the 83rd minute with a long shot from Montolivo that Villar did well to push wide.
Also showing off swift passing skills, Montolivo was an able substitute for Pirlo, who could be back as soon as the next match against New Zealand.
In yesterday's other games:
* At Johannesburg, the Netherlands scored on an own goal and beat Denmark, 2-0, 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.
Dirk Kuyt doubled the lead in the 85th minute when he tapped in a rebound off the post from close range.
* At Bloemfontein, Keisuke Honda scored in the first half to lead Japan to a 1-0 win over uninspired Cameroon. The win is Japan's first at the World Cup on foreign soil, and puts the Japanese at the top of Group E along with the Netherlands.
* England defender Jamie Carragher said Robert Green should remain in goal in Friday's World Cup match against Algeria despite his blunder against the United States. Green fumbled Clint Dempsey's 25-yard shot into the goal, giving the Americans an equalizer in a 1-1 draw.
"He will have no problem and will come back," Carragher said.
England coach Fabio Capello said he will assess Green "psychologically" before deciding whether the 30-year-old West Ham keeper will start.
Dempsey said he wasn't sure it was a goal. "I didn't know exactly that it went all the way to net or not, but I just wanted to see what the linesman was doing," he said. "I saw the linesman running back with his flag, so I knew that they counted the goal and I just went and celebrated with the whole team on the bench."