ITALY are the world champions and are aiming to become the first country to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962.
Marcello Lippi is still at the helm, but they are an ageing side and confidence doesn’t seem too high at home.
They are still as short as 1/16 with William Hill to qualify from Group F and 4/9 with the same firm to win the group. Slovakia and New Zealand should be easy wins, but today’s fixture against Paraguay looks much more difficult.
The South Americans have reached the last 16 in two of the last three tournaments and their build-up this time hasn’t been too bad.
They suffered a defeat in Dublin last month, but have beaten Greece and drawn against the Ivory Coast since then. Their qualification was also strong, finishing joint second with Chile, just one point behind Brazil and five in front of Argentina.
Italy undoubtedly have better players than Paraguay, but there is going to be a lot of pressure on them in this opening game. Lippi has received criticism from the national press for failing to usher in a new generation of player and their attacking options look limited.
They have only scored three goals in their last five friendlies, losing to Mexico and drawing against both Cameroon and Switzerland recently. Alberto Gilardino is the only member of the squad to have scored more than nine goals for his country (16 from 39 appearances), but he has only found the net once in 14 outings for Fiorentina and Italy since the turn of the year.
In fairness, Paraguay’s attack doesn’t really inspire either. Roque Santa Cruz is their top scorer with 21 goals from 67 caps, but his season has been very stop-start with Manchester City and he has also only netted once this year from 15 appearances for his club and country.
I’m sure head coach Gerardo Martino would be delighted if his side can take a point from this game and everything points to a tight, low-scoring game. The Sporting Index traders seem to agree with me and only have the Italians as 0.45-0.65 supremacy favourites, with a goals spread of 2.1-2.3.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if this game finishes goalless, so I’ll be selling the goals spread, as well as backing no goalscorer at a general 13/2.
Match to be drawn at 9/4 with Paddy Power
No goalscorer at 13/2 general
Sell match goals at 2.1 with Sporting Index