Friday, June 25, 2010

WC2010: Arrivederci, Italy

Champions Italy crashed out of the World Cup as first-time qualifiers Slovakia booked a surprising place in the second round after an epic game at Ellis Park.

For the third consecutive game, the Azzurri allowed an early goal and this time they never recovered. Slovakia survived a late onslaught to beat Italy 3-2, reach the Round of 16 and eliminate their illustrious opponents. A Robert Vittek double and a stoppage-time lob from substitute Kamil Kopunek proved enough for Vladimir Weiss's team to advance as Group F runners-up, after late goals from Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella had ensured a dramatic conclusion to a thrilling contest in Johannesburg.

It was Italy’s first loss at the World Cup since allowing a golden goal to South Korea in the second round in 2002. And it marked the end of an era for Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gattuso, who already announced their retirement from the national team after the tournament. Lippi is also moving on, with Cesare Prandelli already chosen as his successor.

Slovakia verdict:
Showed a distinct improvement after their defeat to Paraguay. Undoubtedly the greatest result in the country's short history. Vittek led the line well and the midfield showed fantastic energy right up to the end. Defensive errors must be cut out if further progress is to be made but it was a resolute performance and Vladimir Weiss's side fully deserve their place in the second round.

Italy verdict:
A shocking first-half display and the concession of two-goals gave them far too much to do and it was too little too late in terms of the intense pressure in the final 15 minutes of the game. Quagliarella's introduction livened things up but there were far too many underperforming players in the team, something that the any new manager must address. It was an inglorious end of the Azzurri's tenure as champions and they were woeful throughout their three-game defence of the trophy.

Never have the previous World Cup finalists both failed to advance in the next tournament when both qualified. France, which lost to Italy on penalty kicks for the 2006 title, went out earlier this week in Group A.

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