Paraguay 1, Italy 1: An inauspicious start for the defending champs. Falling behind on a shock goal late in the first half, the Azzurri overcame a driving rain and sluggish defending to tie on yet another goalkeeping blunder, this time by Justo Villar, whose feeble efforts to corral a corner kick in the 63rd minute seemed more reminiscent of Lamar Odom trying to snag an offensive rebound in the NBA Finals. Since Italy managed to win World Cups in spite of drawing with such powers as Peru and Cameroon (1982), and the USA (2006), and even reached the Finals in years in which it suffered ties against Mexico (1994) and Israel (1970), all is not lost yet.
Paraguay's goal today came at the head of one Antolin Alcaraz, a journeyman who has spent most of his career trolling from team to team, but who has now signed a contract to play with Wigan Athletic in the Premier League. For the handful of Americans who don't religiously follow English soccer, Wigan is essentially soccer's version of the Oakland A's, a squad representing a relatively small market without sufficient financial resources to compete with the Big Boys (in this case, The Four, ie., United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool), and which has the lowest attendance in the league, but which has nevertheless managed to survive by plying its own form of Moneyball.
The undervalued talent that Wigan typically pursues is exemplified in players like Alcaraz; while Wigan's competitors pursue Brazilian, Dutch and Italian galacticos, Wigan prefers unknown players from Ecuador, Honduras, Ghana, and Egypt. And like their American counterpart, Wigan is quite good at talent-spotting, so much so that a good deal of their profit comes out of the re-sale of their more astute acquisitions, like Man U star Antonio Valencia. Of course, like the A's, Wigan isn't going to win any titles anytime soon, but their implausible stay in the world's top league for the past five seasons is reason to believe that some management principles are universal.