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Italy's World Cup goes home after 3-2 loss to Slovakia

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Soccer Extreme :Defending champion Italy was eliminated Thursday from the World Cup with a humbling 3-2 loss to Slovakia, which advanced.

Slovakia finished second in Group F to Paraguay. The Italians were last, the first time they’ve ever finished at the bottom of an opening-round group.

For the third consecutive game, the Azzurri allowed an early goal and this time they never recovered.

Robert Vittek put Slovakia ahead in the 25th minute, taking advantage of an errant pass from midfielder Daniele De Rossi. Vittek doubled the lead from close range in the 73rd following a corner kick

Antonio Di Natale scored for Italy in the 81st, but Kamil Kopunek ended Italy’s chances eight minutes later, even though Fabio Quagliarella scored in injury time for the four-time champions.

It was Italy’s first loss at the World Cup since allowing a golden goal to South Korea in the second round in 2002. And it marked the end of an era for Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso, who already announced their retirement from the national team after the tournament. Coach Marcello Lippi is also moving on, with Cesare Prandelli already chosen as his successor.

“We were a disappointment and everyone saw it,” regular goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said. “The difference between 2006 and 2010 is that there are no longer enough players like (Francesco) Totti and Alessandro (Del Piero). He (Prandelli) will have to start a new cycle and I hope he’s got his ideas in order, because the current situation of Italian football isn’t great.”

Italy’s squad featured nine players 30 or over and Prandelli will be charged with a major overhaul. Italy hasn’t won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November, drawing five times and losing twice.

Never have the previous World Cup finalists both failed to advance in the next tournament when both qualified. France, which lost to Italy on penalty kicks for the 2006 title, went out earlier this week in Group A.

Slovakia plays Monday in Durban against the winner of Group E. Many of the Slovak players were in tears at the end of the match, and the reserves gathered in a circle, jumping up and down in celebration. It is the first World Cup for Slovakia as an independent nation.

Slovakia finished with a win, a draw and a loss for four points. Italy had two draws and Thursday’s bitter defeat.

Italy also allowed early goals in its 1-1 draws with Paraguay and New Zealand and the Azzurri attack struggled in all three games—save for the final 10 minutes against Slovakia, when the Italians got desperate.

Vittek’s opening goal came on a low shot just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, who again replaced the injured Buffon. He then went around Giorgio Chiellini from close range following a corner kick for his second goal.

Di Natale slid in a rebound from Quagliarella’s shot and, with four forwards on, Quagliarella nearly equalized in the 85th, but was ruled offside by the smallest of margins.

Slovakia restored its two-goal lead in the 89th when substitute Kopunek lifted a bouncing ball over Marchetti.

Quagliarella finally found the target in the second minute of added time with a delicate lob.

Still, for 80 minutes Italy’s forwards were unable to find the net, and no forward scored in open play during the Azzurri’s opening two matches.

Midfielder Andrea Pirlo came on in the 56th minute for his first action since injuring his left calf in a friendly against Mexico three weeks ago. The crafty playmaker gave Italy’s sagging attack a much-needed boost, but it was not enough.

The early exit left the soccer-crazed nation in shock and anger.

The online editions of Corriere della Sera, the country’s largest newspaper, said “Azzurri, Farewell to the World Cup.” Repubblica wrote that “it’s worse than with Korea,” recalling the shocking exit at the hands of North Korea in 1966.

Fans who gathered in a Rome park to watch the match on giant screens began leaving as Slovakia’s goals piled up. (yahoo)

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