Titleholders Italy eliminated as Slovakia advance (Second Lead)June 24th, 2010 - 11:49 pm ICT by IANS
Johannesburg, June 24 (DPA) Reigning champions Italy were eliminated Thursday with a 2-3 loss to Slovakia, who used their first World Cup victory to advance to the Round of 16.
It was the first time in history that both finalists of the previous World Cup failed to make it past the first round, following France’s departure on Tuesday.
Robert Vittek gave Slovakia a 2-0 lead with goals in the 25th and 73rd minutes at Ellis Park Stadium. Antonio Di Natale pulled one back in the 81st minute before Kamil Kopunek made it 3-1 in the 89th.
Fabio Quagliarella made things interesting with his goal in the 92nd minute to keep Italy within range. But it was not enough as Italy became just the fourth title-holder to fail to advance from the first stage following their own departure in 1950, Brazil’s in 1966 and France’s in 2002.
“It’s a dream I cannot believe that we won,” said Vittek.
“It was so difficult in the end. They are after all the world champions. We scored the 3-1 and then they scored again. But that is a champion.”
The 2006 finalists France were bounced earlier in the tournament from Group A. And Italy failed to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1974.
World Cup debutants Slovakia finished second in Group F with four points behind Paraguay while mighty Italy were last with two points.
In the Round of 16, Slovakia will take on Group E winners - most likely the Netherlands - on Monday. That will mean the Slovakians will have to make new travel plans.
“We just want to see what can happen. We hope to surprise someone. But we had plane tickets for Saturday. So we will have to change them,” joked Vittek.
Slovakian boss Vladmir Weiss swapped four players from the starting line-up which lost 0-2 to Paraguay. Radoslav Zabavnik, Miroslav Stoch, Juraj Kucka and Erik Jendrisek took the place of the coach’s son Vladmir Weiss, Kornel Salata, Jan Kozak and Stanislav Sestak.
Italian coach Marcello Lippi was once again without injured first choice goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and playmaker Andrea Pirlo. The coach made two changes from the side that drew 0-0 against New Zealand, recalling midfielder Gennaro Gattuso for his first appearance of the tournament in place of Claudio Marchisio and starting up front with Di Natale instead of Fiorentina striker Alberto Gilardino.
Both sides had chances early on but the reigning champs were stunned in the 25th minute as Slovakia grabbed the lead. Daniele De Rossi’s pass was intercepted by Juraj Kucka, who passed into the path of Vittek, and the Ankaragucu striker beat Italian keeper Federico Marchetti with his shot inside the left post.
Martin Skrtel nearly equalised with an own goal five minutes before the break but his header went just over the crossbar. And Kucka’s hammer from far out hit the side netting three minutes into first half stoppage time.
Lippi had hoped to save Pirlo for the later stages but with his team lacking offensive punch he could not wait any longer, bringing on the AC Milan ace at the 56-minute mark.
Italy’s next chance came seven minutes later with Mucha diving to save Di Natale’s long-range attempt. And with Mucha beaten in the 67th minute, Skrtel saved Quagliarella’s blast on the goal-line to keep Slovakia in the lead.
Vittek doubled the lead in the 73rd minute, running onto Hamsik’s cross from the right side and beating Marchetti to the near right post for a 2-0 lead.
But Italy pulled a goal back in the 81st minute. Mucha stopped Quagliarella’s attempt but Di Natale slotted the rebound into the empty net for a 2-1 deficit.
Mucha was lucky not to have received a red card in the aftermath of the goal as he appeared to punch Quagliarella, who attempted to retrieve the ball.
Quagliarella found the back of the net in the 85th but was ruled offside, and then watched substitute Kuponek lob the ball over Marchetti to make it 3-1 in the 89th minute.
Quagliarella showed that the Italians would not die without a fight and made it 3-2 in the second minute of stoppage time.
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