Italy crash out, Japan through to second round

08:10, June 25, 2010      

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The defending champions crashed out of the World Cup on Thursday as debutants Slovenia won the swim-or-sink game 3-2 to book a second round ticket in Johannesburg.

Japan joined Group E leaders the Netherlands in last 16 after thumping Denmark 3-1 in a fast-tempo game which saw Japanese midfielder Yasuhito Endo bend like David Beckham.

The dramatic loss of the Azzurri took life away from soccer-crazy Italy as people in Rome and Milan poured out of pubs and walked home in shock.

"It's worse than with Korea," lamented the Italian newspaper Republic, recalling the shock exit at the hands of DPR Korea in 1966.

Robert Vittek's double put Slovakia in control in Ellis Park Stadium before Antonio Di Natale closed the gap and Fabio Quagliarella looked like he had grabbed an equalizer, but an offside decision went against him.

Kamil Kopunek left the bench to send Slovakia 3-1 ahead before Quagliarella's heavy strike gave Italy the slimmest hope, but a third goal never happened and the four-time winners joined 1998 champions France in the list of big-name losers.

Slovakia must win to go through while Italy also required three points to guarantee a place in the knockout phase. A draw would likely prove enough for the Italians if Paraguay beat New Zealand in the other Group F game in Bolokwane, which turned out to be a goalless tie.

Italian misery started as Daniele De Rossi's pass was snatched by Erik Jendrisek just outside the Italian box. He promptly found Vittek and the Slovakian fired into the bottom corner in the 25th minute.

A fired-up Vittek doubled the lead from close range in the 73rd following a corner.

Italy pulled one back with nine minutes to go after a quick one-two by Vincenzo Iaquinta and Fabio Quagliarella. When Jan Mucha parried out a sure goal, Di Natale was on hand to hit the ball in.

Then a throw-in by Peter Pekarik caught Italy off guard and Kamil Kopunek were quick enough to lob the ball over Italian keeper Federico Marchetti.

Quagliarella cut Slovakia's advantage with a cannon shot two minutes into the stoppage time but Simone Pepe wasted their last chance when he struck wide at the far post.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi took all the blame by himself.

"I assume complete responsibility for this failure," he said. "I was convinced this squad could do a lot better than that - not win the World Cup, but do a lot better.

"When a team goes into a match as important as this with fear in the stomachs and paralysis in their legs, it's because the coach hasn't prepared them well enough mentally, physically and tactically, but above all mentally."

The gray-hair guru coach was emotional in the post-game press conference.

"I offer my apologies to Italian sport, the players, the football association - everyone," he said. "I'm very sad that my adventure with the Italian football association has come to an end in this fashion.

"Thank you to everyone for all my years at the helm of La Nazionale and good luck to my successor."

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss shed happy tears after the epic win.

"This is a fantastic day for Slovakia and the second greatest day of my life after the birth of my son," he said.

Paraguay topped Group F with five points following a scoreless draw with the Kiwi side who collected three points, one behind Slovakia. Italy were last with two points from as many draws.

Japan joined fellow Asians South Korea in last 16 thanks to early goals by Keisuke Honda and Endo.

Denmark, who had never failed to reach the second round in their World Cup appearances, fought end to end with Japan before Honda opened the Japanese account in the 17th minute.

A free-kick by the CSKA Moscow midfielder about 30 meters from the goal flew over the defense line of the Danish Dynamite and slipped away from the fingertips of goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

At half an hour, with Sorensen expecting Honda to take a set piece, Endo stunned him by curling the ball around the wall and inside the post.

Moments after the restart, Endo sent a looping but tame free-kick to goal but Sorensen fumbled it over his head and the ball smacked off the post.

Denmark had wasted countless chances, including the gilt one at the 72nd minute when Dennis Rommedahl found himself in space inside the area and slid the ball back into the path of Jon Dahl Tomasson, who fumbled his shot from seven meters.

Two minutes after Danish striker Soren Larsen rattled the crossbar, Tomasson finally scored for Denmark, following the penalty kick which was awarded for a push on Daniel Agger.

The spot kick was blocked but Tomasson hit the rebound into the corner.

Japan killed the game in the 87th minute as Honda set up Shinji Okazaki, who calmly tapped the ball into an empty net.

The Samurai Blue garnered six points to finish second in the group, which was won by the Netherlands on nine points. Denmark were sent packing with three points with winless Cameroon in bottom.

"For Japan it's a big win," Honda said after the game. "I'm glad we won but I am not satisfied. The next game (against Paraguay) is more important. I want to show the Japanese that nothing is impossible."

"Prior to the match, the coach said we shouldn't concentrate on the defense and that we should attack," added the Asian Player of 2009. "That's what the coach told the players to boost our motivation. It was really effective and led to this wonderful result."

The Dutch have kept a perfect record in South Africa World Cup thanks to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's late winner.

Robin van Persie put the Dutch ahead following a one-two with Rafael van der Vaart.

Cameroon had evened the scores through a Samuel Eto'o penalty which was awarded after a handball by Van der Vaart, before Huntelaar tapped in a rebound off the post.


Special Report: World Cup 2010


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