JOHANNESBURG - Holders Italy paid a heavy
price for another inconsistent World Cup performance, waking up
too late to avoid the ignominy of going out early as Slovakia
held out for a surprise 3-2 win at Ellis Park on Thursday.
The Slovaks, the only newcomers in the 32-team field, held
on desperately at the very end as Italy failed to force the draw
that would have kept them in the tournament.
Instead, the World Cup debutants reached the last 16 after
coming second in Group F behind Paraguay, who drew 0-0 with New
Zealand, while the world champions go home in last place.
It was the first time Italy had conceded three goals in a
match at a World Cup tournament since they lost 4-1 to Brazil in
the 1970 final in Mexico.
"The whole of Slovakia is happy, it's a fantastic day for
us. After the birth of my son, it's the second best day of my
life," coach Vladimir Weiss said.
But for an off target effort right at the end and an earlier
offside decision, Italy might well have staged a stunning
comeback after being 2-0 down with less than 10 minutes left.
Robert Vittek set Slovakia on their way to an unexpected
triumph with the first two strikes but the real drama was
reserved for the closing stages as three more goals kept the
match in the balance until the dying moments.
Italy, who had drawn their two previous group matches,
brought the score back to 2-1 in the 81st minute through Antonio
Di Natale and had the ball in the net again two minutes later,
only for Fabio Quagliarella to be flagged marginally offside as
he swept the ball home from close range.
The world champions still looked odds on to score the
all-important equaliser but got caught by a sucker punch as
substitute Kamil Kopunek ran onto a quick throw-in and restored
Slovakia's two goal advantage in the 89th minute.
A sublime 20 metre chip from Italy striker Quagliarella
three minutes into stoppage time sailed in under the bar to add
another twist to a rapidly-evolving saga.
But hopes of a dramatic conclusion, as the Slovaks
repeatedly tested the patience of referee Howard Webb with
time-wasting tactics, were dashed when Simone Pepe missed at the
back post with what was virtually the last kick of the game.
Vittek had given Slovakia the lead in the 25th minute after
a cautious beginning in front of a 53,412 crowd, turning onto a
clever through pass from Juraj Kucka and hitting the ball wide
of goalkeeper Federico Marchetti.
A second goal in the 73rd minute was just reward for a
workmanlike performance by the underrated Slovaks, as Marek
Hamsik's corner was blocked but he played the rebound into
Vittek who tucked the ball away at the near post.
"We didn't expect such domination. We played with our hearts
and that's what decided the match today," said Vittek.
The holders sparked into life belatedly but, as the crowd
edged forward in their seats spellbound by the three quick
goals, Italy were out of time and the World Cup.
"I take all responsibility, all responsibility for what
happened," said coach Marcello Lippi.
"If a team turns up at such an important game with terror in
their heart and their legs and is unable to express its ability
it's because the coach didn't train the team as he should."
Follow FFT.com on Twitter
Join FFT.com on Facebook
Man City set next manager daunting task of winning five trophies in the next five years
Europa League winners in 2015 will qualify for the Champions League the following season
Berlin will stage Champions League final for the first time in 2015
Borussia Dortmund's Mario Gotze ruled out of Champions League final against Bayern Munich
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010