Ciao, Italy!

2010-06-24 16:01

The 2010 World Cup finals suffered its second major shock when

defending champions Italy failed to get past the first round – the first

defending champions to do so.

The Azzurri were victims of a massive upset when unfancied 34th

world ranked Slovakia humiliated the fifth best team in the world 3-2 at a

packed Ellis Park this afternoon to qualify along with Paraguay, who won the

group after a 0-0 draw with New Zealand in their match played simultaneously in

Polokwane.

It was an amazing 90 minutes that ended in tears for the outplayed

Italians and joy and delight for Slovakia who did a lap of honour at their

greatest ever victory.

Two goals – one in each half from Turkish-based striker Robert

Vittek and a last-minute strike from substitute Kamil Kopunek – sunk the out of

sorts Azzurri and ended their hopes of defending the crown they won in Germany

in 2006.

The Italian fans, who were in the majority, were stunned to silence

by the inept display of the defending champions who, like France – the side

Italy defeated in the 2006 World Cup finals – are on their way to the OR Tambo

Airport following their failure to win a single match in their three group

games. Azzurri finished bottom of the group with two points from two

disappointing draws against Paraguay and New Zealand.

France, who were the world champions in 1998, were humiliated 2-1

by South Africa in Bloemfontein on Tuesday and they returned to Paris also

without winning any of their group matches.

Ageing side

Italy and coach Marcello Lippi came into the tournament under a

cloud of criticism that their side was ageing and not ready for the World

Cup.

But again Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s stubborn refusal to use

technology denied Italy an equaliser with the score at 1-0 in the 67th minute

when Martin Skrtel booted another Azzurri substitute Fabio Quagliarella’s shot

from his goalline. Television replays suggested the ball had crossed the

line.

English referee Howard Webb waved play and refused to listen to the

Italian players’ appeals.

The defending champions’ hopes of survival in the tournament hung

by a thread at half time as the unfancied Slovakia went into the break 1-0

ahead, thanks to a well-taken goal from their Turkish-based Róbert Vittek in the

25th minute.

Italy made a couple of early half-hearted attempts.

But the Slovakians got their act together and their Italian-based

captain, Marek Hamsik, shot wide in the sixth minute.

Italian reserve keeper Federico Marchetti, deputising for the

injured Gianluigi Buffon, punched away Miroslav Stoch’s free kick in the 13th

minute.

The Italian fans in the capacity crowd were silenced in the 25th

minute when Juraj Kucka threaded through a great ball for Vittek who beat

Marchetti at the far post with a well-hit ground shot to put the underdogs into

a shock 1-0 lead.

Azzurri failed to get out of their complacency and it took a superb

save from Marchetti to deny Zdenko Strba another goal for Slovakia in the 35th

minute.

The only time that Italy threatened was in the 40th minute when

Slovak defender Skrtel headed over a loose high ball. The Liverpool defender had

enough power on his header to avoid scoring an embarrassing own goal.

During injury time Italy had another near escape when a thunderous

25 metre volley from Sparta Prague midfielder Kucha flew centimetres past the

post with Marchetti at full stretch.

Putting up a fight

Italy showed more fight after the break. Vincenzo Iaquinta headed a

Simone Pepe cross wide of the Slovakian goal in the 50th minute. A good save by

Slovak keeper Marek Cech denied substitute Giampaolo Pazzini an equaliser with a

long range effort in the 63rd minute.

The came Skrtel’s goal line save in the 67th minute from

Quagliarella.

But it looked all over in the 73rd minute when the livewire Vittek

blasted home a cross form Hamsik at the near post to make it 2-0 and sent the

band of Slovakian supporters into wild celebrations.

Cech did well to put his body on the line and block a close range

shot form Antonio Di Natale in the 79th minute.

But Di Natale was rewarded for his effort when he reduced the

deficit in the 81st minute from the rebound after Cech had parried

Quagliarella’s shot. Quagliarella thought he had equalised but his 85th minute

strike was disallowed for offside.

But just to rub salt into Italy’s wounds Kamil Kopunek netted after

collecting a throw-in and chipped the ball over Marchetti to make it 3-1.

Italy finally showed some fight and the never-say-die Quagliarella

scored a great goal in injury time to make it 3-2 – which was too little to

late.


 

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