For the first time since 1974, Italy has crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage, losing a 3-2 decision to Slovakia today to finish bottom of Group F, a shocking fall for the defending champion Azzurri. Coach Marcello Lippi said his team “played with fear in their legs and their hearts” throughout their brief stay at the tournament, perhaps never more than today when, for long stretches, Slovakia bossed the game and created the bulk of the chances.
This might have been the most dramatic game at the World Cup so far, with the stakes so high for both teams and the goals coming thick and fast in the final 10 minutes. But aging Italy, hampered by the loss of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and without Andrea Pirlo for the first two matches, never really woke up until then, and it cost them even worse than failing to beat New Zealand in their previous match. Slovakia’s players, notably the keeper, were guilty of some serious time wasting in the dying moments, with the match threatening to drag on longer than a certain Wimbledon epic, but they held on for a famous win.
As for the Kiwis, they pulled off another draw, their third in as many matches. For a team that was expected to be cannon fodder at this World Cup, New Zealand can hold their heads high, but they’re still packing their bags after a 0-0 snoozer against Paraguay, with the South Americans moving on.
The late games saw the Netherlands outclass Cameroon 2-1, the first time a Dutch team has won all three group stage matches at the World Cup (and extending an unbeaten streak that began with an undefeated qualifying campaign). Arjen Robben returned to the Dutch team after missing victories over Denmark and Japan. On the other side, Paul LeGuen resigned as coach of the Indomitable Lions after losing all three matches and could be heading Down Under for his next job.
Finally, Japan bent a pair of free kicks into the Danish net and, after conceding a second-half penalty, sealed it with a late third goal to earn a 3-1 win that dumped Denmark out. Even if their continent won’t be cheering for them, Japan are moving on, and doing so for the first time on foreign soil.
With all eyes focussed on South Africa, this seemed a good time for Chelsea to hand Nicolas Anelka a contract extension. Wonder whether there’s a behaviour clause? Does Stamford Bridge have a swear jar?
So, the Netherlands take on upstart Slovakia on Monday, with Paraguay taking on the Japanese on Tuesday, with just four places left in the round of 16.