Italy coach Marcello Lippi insists he will not rush chief playmaker Andrea Pirlo back from injury at the FIFA World Cup™.
Pirlo is Lippi's only injury victim ahead of tonight's Group F opener against Paraguay in Cape Town, with the AC Milan schemer out with a calf problem suffered before the team jetted out to South Africa. Such is Pirlo's influence, Lippi decided against replacing him with a fit alternative. However, the coach admits he will happily wait until the veteran is ready.
"He is not going to be ready for Paraguay," said the 2006 World Cup-winning coach, whose side also face New Zealand and Slovakia in the group. "His condition is improving, he is matching the schedule we imagined when we learned of his problem and decided to bring him anyway.
"He came with enthusiasm and is excited. I'll be happy if he is ready for the third match. I think he'll try to be ready for the second match but I would be happy for the third match."
Lippi last night put his side through their paces in an 11-a-side practice match featuring what seems likely to be his starting XI. That team did not feature veteran midfielder Gennaro Gattuso or Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale, far and away the best goalscorer in Serie A last season with 29 goals.
Instead, Alberto Gilardino lined up as the central striker with Simone Pepe to his right and the sluggish Vincenzo Iaquinta out of position on the left. Daniele De Rossi teamed up with Claudio Marchisio in midfield with Riccardo Montolivo in the playmaking role.
When pressed, though, Lippi told journalists: "If you don't understand the line-up you should change your trade and give up being journalists. If you don't understand the kind of line-up I am using, you better change jobs. Come on, what excuse do you have? But I'm not going to tell you, anyway. Let me say once again that I haven't even told the players. If I tell you today, that is not fair. We'll see if you got it right."
Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino believes his side will take inspiration from the plight of their team-mate Salvador Cabanas, who is at home recovering from being shot in the head. The stocky striker is missing the FIFA World Cup as he continues his recovery from the incident in a Mexican bar in January.
Cabanas is a first-choice forward for Martino's side but Martino hopes to turn it into a positive.
"This is a very sensitive issue for all of us, the whole of Paraguay. The players have spoken to him, we have been in touch with Salvador all the time since he suffered the accident. Of course he is a great inspiration for us, for us to be able to play in a World Cup and we will play in tribute to Salvador. He would have been here had he not suffered that accident," he said.