Slovakia 3-2 Italy
New Zealand 0-0 Paraguay
1. Paraguay 5 Points +2
2. Slovakia 4 Points -1
3. New Zealand 3 Points 0
4. Italy 2 Points -1
Group Winner: Paraguay
My Prediction For Qualification: Italy and Paraguay
Italy are out of The World Cup. Let me type it again; Italy are out of The World Cup.
The match between Italy and Slovakia produced not only the best match of the Tournament but the best result of this World Cup; in losing a 3-2 thriller in the manner that they did, defending World Cup champions Italy crash out of the Tournament, finishing at the bottom of Group F. If anyone in their right mind would have looked at Group F and bet on Italy to finish bottom, they would have been insane. But now? Sitting on a pile of money. When I say that this result couldn't have happened to a nicer team, I mean it; I dislike the Italian national team with every fiber of my being. One of the greatest aspects of today's game was watching Slovakia match them face clutch for face clutch, faked injury for faked injury and being able to look at the outrage and frustration on the faces of Italian players; how dare anyone give the Italians a taste of their own medicine? As someone said in a comment on a previous post, I love the Italian people, I love their food, I love their culture, but man oh man, do I not like Italian football.
So, when Slovakia scored their opener through Robert Vittek in the 25th minute, you knew it was game on again; Italy had conceded the first goal in all three of their Group games and had not come back to win either of the previous two, so the trend established early in the tournament held true again. This time, Daniele De Rossi, the fiery Italian midfielder who dove in the box in the New Zealand match to earn a penalty, got his just deserts as his give away 30 yards from goal ended up at the feet of Vittek, who fired home from 18 yards.
Vittek Scores(Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
It was a stunning start; If Italy could get a draw, and if Paraguay didn't lose to New Zealand, Italy could make it out by the skin of their teeth. So, the game pressed on, through halftime and into the second half, with Italy struggling to grab a goal and growing ever more frustrated. It's a funny thing; watching nations with great domestic leagues and high expectations struggle in matches, you just get the sense that the pressure is so immense that at any moment the players could snap. It seemed there was no way back, but Italian manager Marcello Lippi began bringing on attacking players to go out and fight back for the draw; once the Italian maestro Andrea Pirlo and striker Fabio Quagliarella came on in the second half, Italy seemed to spring to life only to find themselves in a deeper hole. In the 73rd minute, Martin Hamsik put in a corner that was cleared back his way, so he brought the ball forward and slid a dribbling ball to the near post, and Vittek simply out-hustled Giorgio Chiellini to the ball and tucked it past Italian goal keeper Federico Marchetti inside the post and 2-0.
From there, the game exploded with end to end action as Italy chased down a two goal deficit as if their lives depended on it (they probably did); in the 81st minute, Antonio Di Natale found himself alone on the far post and, after Slovakian goalie Jan Mucha made a hash of Quagliarella's shot, found the ball at his feet, which he buried to make it 2-1. And then, it all kicked off; Mucha went to grab the ball out of his own net and was shoved into the netting by Qualiarella, who wanted to snatch the ball from him and get a quick re-start and Mucha, who didn't take too kindly to being mugged in his own goal mouth, reached out and punched Quagliarella in the jaw. The Italian, being who he is, fell backwards and clutched his face as referee Howard Webb ran over to see what the hell was going on in the corner of the goal. Two yellow cards later and it was all sorted, but the incident start Slovakia time wasting, falling over heavily after every challenge, clutching their faces after taking a stray hand or elbow to the mouth; it was pure Italian drama, only somehow, it was the Italians who suffered the indignity of having to endure it. Perfect theater.
Rumble In The Net (Photo by Claudio Villa/ Grazia Neri/Getty Images)
Moments later, Quagliarella seemed to score and tie the match when he punched in a low driven ball across the mouth of the goal, but he was deemed offside; the call was really, REALLY tight and if that were my team, I would have been furious, but after a few moments of outrage, Italy soldiered on, only to see Slovakia take a 3-1 lead in the 89th minute when substitute Kamil Kopunek ran onto a brilliant throw in and, with the Italian back four standing around ball watching, chipped Marchetti with his first touch of the matched and scored to make it 3-1. 4 minutes of extra time were added on and Quagliarella scored a brilliant goal from 20 yards out, blasting the ball past Mucha in the 90th minute, to make the game 3-2. The goals were flying in and, with Quagliarella on fire (where was he this Tournament? Under-utilized and on the bench for most of it...) and Pirlo pulling the strings, Slovakia started subbing players and faking injuries, anything to keep the ball away from their goal. In the 93rd minute, Italy had their chance for the draw when a dangerous cross seemed to travel through 18 different players and found Simone Pepe alone on the back post, only to see Pepe somehow push it wide of the post. When the final whistle came, the proud Italians were in tears and Slovakia were dancing in the middle of the pitch having pulled off an unlikely and famous victory, securing their own passage into the Round of 16.
I hate to kick a team when they're down, but I know this team would do the same to me, so let me just say how happy I am to see this diving, cheating, arrogant set of players gone from the World Cup. There will be no joy on the Jersey Shore tonight, the hog butchers of Bayridge will be crying, American soccer star and Italian National Team member Giuseppe Rossi will be somewhere in Spain, whimpering into his cell phone as he comforts his father in their mutual time of sorrow, and I will be happy to watch the rest of this Tournament knowing that Italy and their obnoxious brand of football were simply not good enough this time around. Ciao, Italia!
Look, Ma! New Wallpaper For My Computer! (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The other match in Group F saw New Zealand and Paraguay battle to a 0-0 draw in Polokwane. Given the fortunes of Slovakia, Paraguay only needed a draw to top Group E and while they played their typical brand of organized football, they never really seemed to step on the gas; instead, it was a bright performance from New Zealand that saw the Kiwis knocked out of the Tournament, but with heads held high; the team that no one fancied coming into this World Cup walk out without having lost a match. Lots to be proud of, most of all the performance of goalie Mark Paston, whose saves today, against a sharp header from close range by Paraguay's Cristian Riveros in the 62nd minute and his brilliant double save on a low, driven ball from Edgar Benitez in the 76th minute, kept New Zealand alive in this match. Still, Paraguay were in cruise control and New Zealand couldn't get the magic goal that might push them past Slovakia and Paraguay and win them the Group. A well-played and sporting match (imagine that...) the ended 0-0, and leaving Paraguay on top of Group F and Slovakia qualifying after their magic result against Italy.
Paston's Save (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Netherlands 2-1 Cameroon
Denmark 3- 1 Japan
1. The Netherlands 9 Points +4
2. Japan 6 Points +2
3. Denmark 3 Points -3
4. Cameroon 0 Points - 3
Group Winner: The Netherlands
My Prediction For Qualification: The Netherlands and Cameroon
Wow, was I wrong about Cameroon. They were my hope for an African side in this Tournament and they were managed into the ground by a poor Paul Le Guen, who decided to throw Samuel Eto'o, one of the best strikers in the world, on the right wing in a 4-3-3 and then decided to locker room politics get in the way of common sense on the pitch, omitting seasoned, big league players like Alex Song and Achille Emana for 18 year olds with no experience (like Joel Matip). It cost him; Cameroon came into today's match with The Netherlands having already been knocked out of the Tournament. With The Netherlands having already qualified, there was not much to play for in Cape Town today, but you wouldn't have known it from watching this highly entertaining match. The Netherlands went ahead in the 36th minute when Rafael van der Vaart, probably making his final start of the Tournament, played a beautiful ball into Robin van Persie, who shot with his right foot through the legs of Cameroonian goalkeeper Souleymanou Hamidou and into the net for a 1-0 lead. In the second half, Van der Vaart gave one back, throwing his arm up and blocking a free kick in the box, allowing Samuel Eto'o to step up and blast home his second goal of this World Cup from the penalty spot. In the 73rd minute, Arjen Robben replaced Van der Vaart, and made an immediate impact on the Dutch right wing; even at 75%, his pace and ability give the Dutch far greater width than with Van der Vaart, who once again spent much of the game cutting infield and depriving The Netherlands of the width they need to open up spaces for Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder; I've said it before-- Van der Vaart should sub in, and Eljero Elia should start on the left for this team. But who is listening? In the 83rd minute, Robben took the ball on the right wing and cut inside (*cough*) onto his left foot and pounded a shot off the inside of the post; it fell to an unmarked Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who hit the ball squarely into the back of the net. 2-1 and all done. only the debut of Rigobert Song into the Cameroon side brought any joy in the end; Song made an appearance, making him one of the rare players to perform in four World Cups (1994, 1998, 2002, 2010, a proud accomplishment for this Cameroonian legend.
Huntelaar Scores The Winner (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The other match in Group E, on the other hand, had all to play for, as Japan and Denmark each faced elimination from the Tournament with a loss. Despite the general lack of knowledge about Japanese football (most of the players play in the little watched J-League), Japan have been a strong, well managed side who have given their all in every match and today, surprise surprise, they overcame a mediocre Denmark with a 3-1 victory in Rustenburg. The first goal cam from a sick, audacious free kick bomb from star forward Keisuke Honda, who hit a looping knuckle ball in the 17th minute that wrong-footed Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and flew into the net; 1-0 and it was a dominant performance from there. In the 30th minute, japan won a free kick 20 yards straight away from goal and Yasuhito Endo hit a perfect free kick around the outside of the Danish wall and in, 2-0. The Danes pulled one back when Daniel Agger, a center back with a lethal shot and a very good attacker, was brought down in the box; Jon Dahl Tomasson saw his penalty kick saved, but he followed the rebound and tapped in top make it 2-1. The Danes continued to press and got hit on the counter when, in the 87th minute, Honda made a sick move at the top of the box to lose his marker and slid the ball unselfishly Shinji Okazaki, who stood alone three feet from goal and made an unmissable shot, putting Japan up 3-1 and putting Denmark out of the World Cup. Japan have been a real surprise, and Honda was a true dynamo today, playing with flair and tenacity, lighting up the eyes of club managers around the world with his brilliant performance. I'm sure the phones are ringing off the hook back at the offices of CSKA Moscow, Honda's club team, as suitors now must be coming fast and furious. Japan have a real chance in their next match against Paraguay, and they have truly been a side to watch in this Tournament, winning their first two World Cup matches away from home soil.
Can't Miss: Okazaki makes It 3-1 (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarv)
What It All Means
Group E winner The Netherlands take on Group F runner-up Slovakia on June 28th
Group F winner Paraguay take on Group E runner-up Japan on June 29th
Up Next: Day Fifteen: Group G & H Deciders-- Will Spain Stay Alive?