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Lippi calm before Italy's Cup opener

14/06/2010 07:22:49 AM Comments (0)

Italy coach Marcello Lippi didn't make any bold predictions before the Azzurri's World Cup victory four years ago, and he certainly wasn't about to change his ways before Monday's opener with Paraguay.

"I didn't tell you four years ago before Italy-Ghana that we were going to present you with epic month," Lippi said Sunday, referring to the 2-0 win in 2006 that set the tone for the Azzurri's title run. "Great teams are born at big tournaments and grow game-by-game. Hopefully we'll start off well tomorrow night and grow from there."

Lippi appeared at ease, calling the rampant scepticism surrounding his aging squad "normal," even if he doesn't agree with it.

Italy has appeared confused in recent friendlies and Lippi still appears uncertain over his lineup, especially with key midfielder Andrea Pirlo out with an injured left calf.

"I can't deny that certain injuries have prevented me from carrying out a few experiments, but there's no doubt the squad is ready," the coach said, refusing to offer any lineup details.

While Italy is out to discredit its critics, Paraguay is playing in honour of absent striker Salvador Cabanas, who is completing a remarkable recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.

Cabanas was shot in a Mexico City bar in January and the main suspect is still at large. He was released three weeks ago from a rehabilitation clinic in Buenos Aires and doctors treating him have been surprised by his recovery, raising speculation that he could eventually play again.

"Salvador's situation is a very delicate subject for us and the entire country," Paraguay's Argentine coach Gerardo Martino said, adding that the players have been talking with their fallen teammate daily. "He's an inspiration for us and we're going to play for him."

Appearing in its fourth consecutive World Cup, Paraguay has developed a solid defence under Martino, which allowed the team to qualify third in South America behind Brazil and Chile, and ahead of Argentina.

The impressive qualifying campaign included a 2-0 win over Brazil and a 1-0 victory over Argentina.

With Italy also traditionally defence-oriented, the game is shaping up as a low-scoring affair, although both coaches indicated they planned to go forward.

"Every team you face at the World Cup is tough - there are no easy squads. So to beat a team like Paraguay you have to attack it," Lippi said. "But you also need to defend, because they have some very dangerous players. But we're not going to attack the entire match, because that wouldn't be wise."

In the absence of Cabanas, Paraguay's top forward is Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz, who is still questionable after missing all of his team's key qualifying games with recurring knee problems.

It was Cabanas and Santa Cruz who scored in the win over Brazil in June 2008.

Borussia Dortmund forward Lucas Barrios should also figure in attack.

Lippi tested Giampaolo Pazzini at centre forward in the team's final training session at the Green Point stadium Sunday, although Alberto Gilardino is expected to get the starting nod with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Simone Pepe on the wings.

Fiorentina captain Riccardo Montolivo should replace Pirlo in midfield.

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