JOHANNESBURG, June 9 – Reigning champions Italy arrived in South Africa on Wednesday to defend their crown after tournament favourites Spain showed off their firepower as they scored six times in their final warm-up game.Coach Marcello Lippi’s Italian squad, which includes nine of the players in the squad which triumphed four years ago in Germany, were guarded by dozens of police after their plane touched down at Johannesburg airport.
They headed off to the Leriba Golf Lodge, just outside Pretoria, to prepare for their opening Group F match against Paraguay in Cape Town on Monday.
The Italians’ arrival ups the tempo two days before Friday’s big kickoff when the host nation take on Mexico in front of 90,000 spectators — including former president Nelson Mandela — at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium.
Italy have rarely shone since their triumph against France in the 2006 final in Berlin, but the country’s football federation chief Giancarlo Abete insisted it would be a mistake to write off Lippi’s squad.
"Italy are world champions, that should not be forgotten but you cannot deny that other teams have done better than us in the last few years," Abete said on the plane to South Africa.
"For everyone the favourites are Brazil, Spain, Argentina and England, but we’ve got great belief.
"For Italy we’re talking about tradition and in big competitions our strengths show through."
But history is against the Italians — no country has won back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1962.
Lippi has already lost key man Andrea Pirlo to a calf strain for the Paraguay game and the playmaker faces a race against time to be involved in any of the group games.
Injuries have blighted the preparations of many of the main contenders, but Spain will leave for South Africa on Thursday safe in the knowledge that striker Fernando Torres is approaching full fitness after knee surgery in April.
The Liverpool forward scored with a neat finish after coming on as a second-half substitute for David Villa in Spain’s 6-0 thrashing of Poland in Murcia which showed the Spaniards are on track as they bid to win the World Cup for the first time.
"It’s almost two months since I played so I am happy to have scored," said Torres.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque admitted he was delighted by the return to form of the man who netted the winner in the Euro 2008 final against Germany.
"We have finished our preparations and we can go to South Africa in good spirits," he said.
The only cloud on the horizon for Spain was a leg injury to playmaker Andres Iniesta, who will undergo a scan on Wednesday, although Del Bosque said he believed it was nothing major.
Portugal were counting the cost after in-form Manchester United winger Nani was ruled out of the entire tournament after injuring his collarbone in training, dealing a blow to his country’s chances.
As a forlorn Nani watched from the sidelines, Portugal eased to a 3-0 win over Mozambique in Johannesburg on Tuesday with Hugo Almeida scoring twice.
Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz admitted Nani was a "sad" loss. "But the most important thing is the cohesion of the team and that we all play together to get over it," he said.
Queiroz was however given a boost after seeing defensive midfielder Pepe back in action after the Real Madrid player had been sidelined for six months with a knee injury.
England returned to the training pitch in Rustenburg, but all the fireworks came from coach Fabio Capello who unleashed an angry blast at photographers and cameramen.
Apparently believing some of the lenses were being trained beyond the players and into the changing room as his players emerged at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus, the no-nonsense Italian abruptly brought the shooting to a halt.
Meanwhile, England’s opponents in their Group C opener, the United States, reported that Jozy Altidore, their top scorer in qualifying, and key defender Oguchi Onyewu had recovered from injuries and were available to play on Saturday.