(WFI) Defending world champions Italy are out of the World Cup after a 3-2 loss to 250-1 outsiders Slovakia following a pulsating match.
Paraguay also advance from the group after a 0-0 draw against New Zealand.
Marcello Lippi’s Italy, ranked fifth in FIFA’s world rankings, were soundly beaten by a disciplined and brave Slovakia side – ranked 29 places below them – who took their chances.
A brace from Robert Vittek put Slovakia 2-0 up before Antonio Di Natale pulled a goal back for the Azzurri in a tightly-fought contest which saw the referee produce the yellow card on eight occasions.
But Kamil Kopunek shattered Italy’s dreams when he scored in the 89th minute to put the result beyond doubt, Fabio Quagliarella scoring in the dying seconds to make it 3-2.
While Italy’s players broke down in tears on the pitch, Slovakia’s heroes began their celebrations. It was a deserved victory.
Lippi headed down the tunnel, in what was probably his last World Cup, without shaking hands with Slovakia boss Vladimir Weiss.
The Germany 2006 champions’ World Cup campaign was effectively derailed in the opening two matches when they could only pick up two points after draws against Paraguay and New Zealand.
Slovakia, a nation of just 5.5 million, are competing in the finals for the first time as an independent nation – Czechoslovakia split in 1993. They are the only debutants at the 2010 World Cup.
Italy finished bottom of Group F behind New Zealand, world ranked 77, who upset the odds to notch three draws in the World Cup to win plaudits worldwide.
But their scoreless draw against Paraguay in Polokwane lacked the thrills and spills of the tussle in Johannesburg. It was a game of few chances and few moments of magic.
Having punched above their weight in the tournament, New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert was more than satisfied with his team’s World Cup campaign. They entered the finals as 2000-1 outsiders to win the World Cup.
Their last and only appearance at the FIFA finals was in Spain in 1982, when they quickly exited after three defeats.
Herbert, who was part of the All Whites team in that tournament, is one of only a few people who can claim to have played and managed at World Cups.
“It’s our second time at the World Cup and to completely reverse what we’ve done before is quite amazing. The future looks bright for the team,” Herbert told reporters after the Paraguay game.
“I think I need to pinch myself. If you are going to exit the World Cup there are
good ways of doing it.
“A lot of people thought we shouldn’t be here and that we had amateurs who were not up to it. But I think that’s dead and buried now.”
Paraguay will play the runners-up in Group E in Pretoria on Tuesday. Slovakia will play the winners of Group E, likely the Netherlands, in Durban on Monday.
INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
Cup 2010 Team Profiles now
available in PDF–another INSIDER
James Corbett — The definitive history of the England football team,
fully revised and updated. Order
source of news about the global football business is World Football
Free WFI news bulletins Click