By FRANCO PANIZO
Italy entered the World Cup hoping to go into the history books for becoming just the third team to ever successfully defend its title. While Italy did make history at this World Cup, it wasn't for that reason.
Italy was eliminated from Group F on Wednesday as it lost to Slovakia, 3-2, in a game that ended in thrilling fashion. The loss not only saw Italy finish at the bottom of the group, it also gave the Azzurri, along with France, the distinct title of becoming the first pair of teams to fail to make it out of their groups after being World Cup finalists in the previous tournament.
Slovakia will be joined by group leader Paraguay in the Round of the 16, as the South Americans secured advancement into the second round with a 0-0 draw with New Zealand. The All Whites may not have advanced, but they'll likely have their heads held high after not losing a match in the group.
Here are brief recaps from Group F's games as well as the group's bext XI:
PARAGUAY ADVANCES WITH SCORELESS DRAW
It wasn't the most thrilling game at this World Cup, but for Paraguay it was one to remember.
In a rather dull affair, Paraguay won Group F with a 0-0 draw against New Zealand. The draw marked the third World Cup in the last four that the Paraguayans have reached the second round (the team did not qualify for the 2006 World Cup), and also continued South America's dominance in this tournament.
New Zealand showed more urgency in the waning moments of the match, but by then it was too late to salvage its World Cup hopes of reaching the second round. Regardless of being eliminated, New Zealand will take confidence in knowing it didn't lose a match at this World Cup after being labeled one of the tournament's minnows.
SLOVAKIA ELIMINATES ITALY, 3-2
Facing a must-win situation, Slovakia secured its place in the Round of 16 after a feisty, intense and breathtaking 3-2 victory over reigning World Cup champion Italy.
Robert Vittek netted his first of two goals in the first half after a costly turnover by Italy in its own half. Vittek would add to the lead by scoring from close range in the 73rd off a pass from Marek Hamsik.
Italy responded through an Antonio Di Natale rebound in the 81st, but gave up a third goal to second-half substitute Kamil Kopunek. Kopunek made a well-timed run on a throw-in to catch the Azzurri defense sleeping before beautifully chipping the ball over goalkeeper Federico Marchetti.
Italy would again pull one back, as Fabio Quagliarella delicately lofted a shot over Jan Mucha in the 92nd minute. Simone Pepe then had a last-gasp chance to equalize, but he failed to get good contact on the ball.
GROUP D FINAL TABLE
1. Paraguay……….5 points, +2 goal differential
2. Slovakia……….4 points, -1 goal differential
3. New Zealand……….3 points, 0 goal differential
4. Italy……….2 points, -1 goal differential
SBI's GROUP F BEST XI:
Who do you think will go further in the knockout stages, Paraguay or Slovakia? Surprised by Italy's elimination? Impressed by New Zealand's performance at the World Cup?
Share your thoughts below.