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Italy's coach says team is ready to defend its World Cup title

Marcello Lippi realizes a repeat will be difficult, but insists his team will be ready. South Africans make some noise. Portuguese, Spanish journalists are robbed at gunpoint.

June 09, 2010|By Grahame L. Jones and Kevin Baxter

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa -- Italy, the reigning world champion, finally touched down in South Africa on Wednesday, landing in Johannesburg with a thud rather than gliding in smoothly as the team that won it all in 2006.

Coach Marcello Lippi is under no illusions that repeating his Germany '06 triumph will be easy, especially because no team has successfully defended the World Cup since Brazil in 1962.

Still, Lippi believes in the Azzurri, dismissing talk about the team being too old, the injuries to key players being too costly and the altitude being too much to overcome.

"I knew there would be difficulties, but I also knew that gradually we would overcome them," Lippi said. "The goal [in Italy's training camp] was to put enough gas in our motors to go as far as possible. Just watch, we'll be ready."

Italy's first game is against Paraguay on Monday in Cape Town.

Vuvuzelas on parade

The streets of Johannesburg's fashionable Sandton neighborhood echoed to the sound of plastic horns Wednesday as a reported 250,000 vuvuzela-blowing fans celebrated South Africa's national soccer team, the Bafana Bafana.

Traffic slowed to a snarl as fans danced around a huge statue of Nelson Mandela and then paraded through the streets of the flag-draped city.

South Africa opens the 32-nation World Cup on Friday against Mexico at the massive Soccer City Stadium.

Robberies reported

Portuguese photographer Antonio Simoes and two Spanish journalists were robbed at gunpoint in their hotel rooms in the predawn hours in Magaliesburg, north of Johannesburg.

The two robbers held a gun to Simoes' head while they stripped his room of cameras, lenses and other photographic equipment worth an estimated $35,000. "They told me to lie on the bed, and they covered me with a blanket, pressed a gun against my head and told me to sleep," Simoes said. "It was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me."

The rooms of Miguel Serrano and Rui Gustavo Morais also were robbed of computers, cellphones, cash and clothing. Police were investigating.

In addition, a high-ranking official with the Mexican soccer federation was robbed in Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg, the Mexican daily Record reported.

According to the newspaper, Fernando Cerrilla, director of international relations for Femexfut, had his wallet taken as he walked the square. Cerrilla was the man who scouted South Africa to locate a safe training place for the Mexican team, which is staying on a game reserve just outside Johannesburg.

Officials from the Mexican federation confirmed the robbery but provided few details. The paper said Cerrilla could not be reached for comment.

Short passes

Serbia has been given permission by FIFA to switch its training ground because the field at the original site was inadequate. "The surface was unstable, so we were afraid of getting injuries," said defender Aleksander Kolarov.... Ghana, meanwhile, has moved its World Cup base from a Pretoria hotel to Sun City in Rustenburg because of what a team spokesman called "unresolved technical issues." ... Chile defeated New Zealand, 2-0, in Kanyamazane in the final tune-up game for both teams. Esteban Paredes and Gonzalo Fierro got the goals. New Zealand captain Ryan Nelson sat out the match because of an ear infection.... Greece defender Vangelis Moras will miss the team's opener against South Korea on Saturday while continuing therapy on a groin injury.... The French soccer federation said it would donate $120,000 toward the restoration of a soccer pitch in a township near the resort of Knysna where Les Bleus are based. The team opens against Uruguay in Cape Town on Friday.

Cecilia Sanchez in the Times Mexico City bureau and Times wire services contributed to this report.

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