Italy and Paraguay battle through the rain during their 1-1 draw on Monday. ((Karim Jaafar/Getty Images))

Italy opened defence of its World Cup title with a laborious 1-1 draw against Paraguay on Monday.

Paraguay took advantage of its first shot on goal to take the lead in the 39th minute. Antolin Alcaraz outjumped 36-year-old Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Daniele De Rossi for a header following a free kick from Aureliano Torres, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had no chance for a save.

De Rossi made up for the opening goal by equalizing in the 63rd, sliding in to redirect a corner kick from Simone Pepe.

"We deserved to win," De Rossi said. "We controlled the ball virtually the entire time, but it's not easy against these teams that dream simply of drawing with the world champions. And if you fall behind, it becomes even tougher."

It was a solid start for the AS Roma midfielder, who was suspended for four games during Italy's victorious 2006 run after bloodying the face of United States forward Brian McBride with a sharp elbow.

"The biggest regret is the result," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said. "They only approached the goal once and they scored. We reacted well but you've got to win games likes these."

Too old to win?

Already without injured midfielder Andrea Pirlo, Italy's fortunes took another hit when it lost perhaps its most valuable player — Buffon — after the first half. The 32-year-old goalkeeper was removed in favour of inexperienced backup Federico Marchetti.

"He had a back problem. I hope he returns for the next game but that will be up to the doctors," Lippi said.

Lippi's side did little to disprove the critics who have labeled the squad as too old to win the title again, with nine players over 30.

Buffon says he can recover

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon says he can recover from a back problem in time for the Azzurri's next game.

Buffon was replaced by backup Federico Marchetti at halftime of Italy's 1-1 draw with Paraguay as the Azzurri opened the defence of their World Cup title Monday.

Italy's next opponent in Group F is New Zealand on Sunday — giving Buffon six days to recover.

Buffon says the problem was with his sciatic nerve and that he "hopes to recover in two days."

Team physician Enrico Castellacci says he wouldn't make any prognosis before performing a series of tests.

The Azzurri haven't won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November, drawing with Cameroon and Switzerland and losing 2-1 to Mexico in their World Cup warmups.

Italy centre forward Alberto Gilardino hardly touched the ball and Lippi acknowledged his team needs to attack with more efficiency.

"We need to do more and do it better. Our opponent didn't do anything, they just kept things in check," the coach said.

Still, Italy can console itself by looking forward to its next match against one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament — New Zealand — before closing out play in Group F against an inexperienced Slovakia side.

Paraguay, which managed upset wins over Brazil and Argentina in qualifying, was considered Italy's toughest opponent in the group.

Wet, cold conditions

After a day of often intense rain, the match kicked off under a drizzle, leaving the field slippery. Temperatures stood at eight degrees Celsius but the swirling winds coming off the ocean made it feel colder.

Italy started with six players from its 2006 squad in the lineup and a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Gilardino spearheading the attack and Riccardo Montolivo replacing Pirlo.

Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino left Roque Santa Cruz of Manchester City on the bench and started with a two-man forward line of Borussia Dortmund teammates Nelson Valdez and Lucas Barrios.

Italy was organized from the start, pushing up the right flank with Gianluca Zambrotta and Pepe, but the Azzurri had trouble getting the ball to Gilardino.

Paraguay was content to sit back and wait for counterattacks and didn't venture into Italy's half until the 20-minute mark, when the South Americans won a couple of corners.

At the other end, Paraguay's Enrique Vera gave away the ball to Montolivo but the Fiorentina captain could only get off a weak shot right at waiting goalkeeper Justo Villar.

Paraguay had its first significant chance in the 22nd when Torres shot wide from beyond the area.

With the rain picking up and fans blowing harder on their vuvuzelas — seemingly demanding more action — both teams stalled in midfield for a while before Paraguay took the lead.

In the second half, Italy appeared rattled at first without Buffon shouting his usual orders, and Vera nearly scored in the 52nd when defender Giorgio Chiellini failed to clear.

After De Rossi's equalizer, Italy's best chance for victory came in the 83rd with a long shot from Montolivo that Villar did well to push wide.

Also showing off swift passing skills, Montolivo proved an able substitute for Pirlo but the Azzurri will be eager to get the AC Milan standout back, perhaps as soon as their next match against New Zealand.

"I was pretty excited before the game and it turned out well," Montolivo said. "I'm happy the team played well and that everything worked so well between Daniele (De Rossi) and I. I would have liked to have had a few more shots on goal."

With Pirlo clearly recovering, the bigger worry now for Italy might be Buffon's status.

The other two teams in the group, Slovakia and New Zealand, play Tuesday.