Slovakia football squad advances in World Cup with huge win over defending champ Italy

Slovakia football is moving into the knockout stage of the World Cup tournament in South Africa, after defeating defending champion Italy on Thursday. The Slovaks will meet the Netherlands next Monday.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
Slovakia football is celebrating a big win over Italy. Robert Vittek, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal as Italy's Simone Pepe, left, reacts during the World Cup group F soccer match between Slovakia and Italy at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday.

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss hopes he has silenced his critics with the team's 3-2 win over Italy, which sent the Slovaks into the second round of its first World Cup and eliminated the defending champions.

Weiss has had a rocky relationship with domestic media, and was heavily criticized for losing his cool after his tactics were blamed for Slovakia's 2-0 loss to Paraguay on Tuesday, launching a verbal attack against a reporter.

"It was not easy for us before the Italy match," Weiss said. "We were under intense pressure from our fans and media. I hope it will change the minds of the people, especially the Slovakian media.

IN PICTURES: Top 10 Goals of the World Cup’s first week

"It was a great day in the history of our nation ... for the players, coaches, and fans. Before the World Cup, it was just a dream — now it's a reality. I'm very proud of my team. To win was one thing, but to score three goals against Italy was fantastic. They are a big team and they defend so well. It's a nice moment in our careers."

Slovakia will now meet the Netherlands in the round of 16 match in Durban on Monday.

"We will play with the same spirit against Holland," Weiss said. "They are the favorites but you never know. They have attacking players like (Wesley) Sneijder and (Rafael) van der Vaart. It's not easy to play against these guys. They won all their matches at the group stage. They are a fantastic team with fanstastic players. Most of their players play in the big leagues in England, Spain and Italy, but you will never know before a game. You saw what happened against Italy."

Weiss' son, also named Vladimir, is a member of the Slovakia squad and the coach said it can be difficult to select him ahead of others.

"It's not easy for me to pick my son," he said. "But he is a good guy. I don't see him as my son. I see him as a good player."

Slovakia captain Marek Hamsik is trying not to focus on the Netherlands' great form in winning all three group games.

"They are a very good side. They qualified with nine points," Hamsik said. "But we will approach the match with the same mindset with had against Italy. We won't be thinking much about them.

"It's incredible for us as a nation. Qualifying for the second round is a great thing for our small country."


IN PICTURES: Top 10 Goals of the World Cup’s first week

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