Despite a frantic finish, defending World Cup champions Italy were eliminated after a 3-2 Group F loss to underdog Slovakia at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Thursday. The result sent the Slovakian side through to the Round of 16 where they will next meet the winner of Group E on Monday, June 28 in Durban.
Meanwhile, Italy became the fourth defending champion to bow out in the group stage. It was the first time since 1974 that Italy had failed to advance from their group.
Forward Robert Vittek scored once in each half in the 25th and 73rd minutes to stake Slovakia to a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead. The 28-year-old's first strike came when he was put through on goal after a turnover by midfielder Daniele De Rossi. For the second, Vittek beat defender Giorgio Chiellini to a near post cross delivered from the right flank by Slovakia captain Marek Hamsik.
Italy nearly scored their first goal in the 67th minute but Slovakia's Martin Skrtel cleared a Fabio Quagliarella shot on the goal line. It was forward Antonio Di Natale who finally got on the board in the 81st minute as he pounced on a rebound off a Quagliarella shot to reduce the deficit to 2-1. And the azzurri thought they had the equalizer to get them to the second round when Quagliarella hit the back of the net four minutes later only for the goal to be called back for offsides.
Slovakia promptly restored their two-goal advantage in the 89th minute through subsitute Kamil Kopunek, who scored two minutes after entering the match and took advantage of a flat-footed Italian defense that was surprised by a Slovakia throw-in into the box. Kopunek beat charging goalkeeper Federico Marchetti to the ball and lofted a shot into the back of the net.
Quagliarella finally got his goal in second half stoppage time on a sublime chip shot to make it 3-2. The Italians had one last look at goal in the 95th minute with Simone Pepe whiffing from point-blank range to end Italy’s dream of repeating. A 3-3 draw would have been enough to see Italy through to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
It was too little too late for an Italian side which was listless in the first half with little urgency and even fewer ideas. Marcello Lippi brought on Quagliarella to start the second half and later gave Andrea Pirlo his 2010 World Cup debut after a calf injury had sidelined the playmaker. The changes eventually helped but could not overcome the Italians’ defensive lapses.
Italy joined France, who were also ousted in the group stage, marking the first time that neither of the two previous World Cup finalists advanced to the second round.
SVK – Vittek 25’
SVK – Vittek 73’
ITA – Di Natale 81’
SVK – Kopunek 89’
ITA – Quagliarella 92’
Lineups (right to left):
Slovakia: #1 Jan Mucha – #2 Peter Pekarik, #3 Martin Skrtel, #16 Jan Durica, #5 Radoslav Zabavnik – #15 Miroslav Stoch, #6 Zdeno Strba (87’ #20 Kamil Kopunek), #17 Marek Hamsik, #19 Juraj Kucka – #11 Robert Vittek, #18 Erik Jendrisek (94’ #22 Petars)
Italy (4-3-3): #12 Federico Marchetti – #19 Gianluca Zambrotta, #5 Fabio Cannavaro, #4 Giorgio Chiellini, #3 Domenico Criscito (46’ #2 Christian Maggio) – #22 Riccardo Montolivo (56’ #21 Andrea Pirlo), #6 Daniele De Rossi, #8 Gennaro Gattuso (46’ #18 Fabio Quagliarella) – #7 Simone Pepe, #9 Vincenzo Iaquinta, #10 Antonio Di Natale
Referee: Howard Webb (England)
SVK – Strba 16’
ITA – Cannavaro 31’
SVK – Vittek 40’
SVK – Pekarik 50’
ITA – Chiellini 68’
ITA – Pepe 76’
SVK – Mucha 82’
ITA – Quagliarella 83’
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