An aging team in decline, personified by a lumbering performance by their once-great center half Fabio Cannavaro, lost 3-2 to a Slovakia team that attacked without fear and could have won by a wider margin.
The 2006 World Cup winners say "Arrivederci!" But they're not the only European giant to struggle in South Africa. France are already out, England came close, and Spain could also be heading home early if they fail to beat Chile tomorrow.
Few Italians thought they would fail to qualify from a group that looked easy on paper. But last week’s shock draw with New Zealand left the champions needing a win against a Slovakia side that also required three points if they were to progress to the second round.
It set up an entertaining match, with both sides creating chances early on. It was the Slovaks though, who took the lead. Robert Vittek finished smartly from the edge of the area after Daniele De Rossi had given the ball away carelessly, passing straight to Juraj Kucka.
The score remained 1-0 at half-time, although Italy were fortunate to still have 10 men on the field. Cannavaro somehow escaping a second yellow card after scything down Marek Hamsik just three minutes after picking up his first yellow.
Slovakia didn’t sit back in the second half. Mirolsav Stoch, in particular, often looked threatening. But Italy, knowing that a draw might be good enough to go through, had their chances to equalize. Antonio Di Natale scuffed a shot wide when two men were waiting in the six yard box, before Martin Skrtel dramatically cleared the ball off the line.
Slovakia made them pay, scoring a second with just 17 minutes to go. Vittek again was the goalscorer, sidefooting the ball inside Federico Marchetti’s near post.
But Italy didn’t give up. For once they managed to carve open the Slovak defense and when Fabio Quagliarella’s shot was palmed away by Mucha, Di Natale was on hand to slot the ball home. Quagliarella, a lively second-half substitute, thought he had scored an equalizer – and kept Italy in the tournament – but his goal was annulled by an offside call.
As Italy rushed forward, their defense, not for the first time, went to sleep. Slovakia's Kamil Kopunek ran on to a throw in and flicked the ball over the onrushing Marchetti to make it 3-1. With two minutes of stoppage time left to play, Quagliarella scored a stunning chip from outside the area.
Italy threw everyone forward but it wasn’t to be. The champions’ humiliation was completed after the final whistle when they discovered that New Zealand, playing Paraguay, had recorded a third successive draw. Italy were not only out, they were at the bottom of their group.
An ignominious exit for the 2006 World Cup champs.
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