World Cup: Italy vs. Slovakia; Slovakia wins 3-2, Italy eliminated
Slovakia finished second in Group F to Paraguay. The Italians were last, the first time they'd 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 marked the end of an era for Italy's captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso, who already had announced their retirement from the national team after the tournament. Coach Marcello Lippi also is moving on, with Cesare Prandelli chosen as his successor.
Italy's squad featured nine players 30 or older, and Prandelli will be charged with a major overhaul.
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, South Africa, 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.
— Associated Press
Photo: Slovakia's Kamil Kopunek celebrates after scoring a goal at the World Cup in Johannesburg on Thursday. Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters.