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Slovakia send world champions home

Slovakia 3-2 Italy
The Azzurri finished bottom of Group F as Róbert Vittek struck twice to send the finals debutants into the knockout stages.

Róbert Vittek celebrates his second goal against Italy
Róbert Vittek celebrates his second goal against Italy ©AFP

Italy tumbled out of the FIFA World Cup in the group stage for the first time since 1974 as Slovakia claimed a last-16 place with a 3-2 victory in Johannesburg.

Róbert Vittek scored in each half to spearhead Slovakia's success but a gripping finale saw Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella score either side of Kamil Kopúnek's effort. An Italian equaliser would have sent the holders through at the expense of the finals debutants.

The pattern of the first half was set after only six minutes when Marek Hamšík escaped the attentions of the Italy rearguard only to shank his effort but the following Azzurri lapse proved more costly. Daniele De Rossi lost the ball to Hamšík, who slid a pass through to Vittek and the striker drove his finish across Federico Marchetti into the bottom corner.

Marcello Lippi's men were lacking cohesion and the closest they came to levelling in the first half was an errant header just over his own bar by Martin Škrtel. A buoyant Slovakia could have moved further ahead either side of that incident, Zdeno Štrba's fierce shot from distance tipped away by Marchetti while Juraj Kucka's stunning 25-metre volley found the side-netting on the stroke of half-time.

Italy introduced Christian Maggio, Fabio Quagliarella and Andrea Pirlo, and poured forward after the break, with Škrtel stooping to block on the line with a knee from Quagliarella's thumping strike. However, Slovakia caught them on the hop on 73 minutes as Hamšík crossed for Vittek to steal a march on Giorgio Chiellini and flick in his second goal.

Italy rallied again, and Di Natale (81) tapped in only for substitute Kopúnek to latch on to a long throw and lob Marchetti with a minute to play. There was still time for Quagliarella to chip Ján Mucha to make it 3-2 but an equaliser proved elusive, meaning the two finalists from the previous World Cup – Italy and France – failed to navigate the group stage of the following tournament for the first time in World Cup history.

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