World Cup Preview from The Sports Network



Thursday, June 24, 2010 (All times Eastern)

Slovakia (0-1-1) vs. Italy (0-0-2), 10 a.m.

Johannesburg, South Africa (Sports Network) - All four teams are still alive as Group F enters its final day of play on Thursday, but Italy has plenty of work to do in order to reach the knockout round, which was unthinkable at the start of the tournament.

The defending champions were the clear favorites in what most experts believed was the weakest group in South Africa, but they must now beat Slovakia at Ellis Park Stadium in order to secure themselves a place in the last 16.

A 1-1 draw with Paraguay to start the tournament was not a bad result, but Italy's stunning 1-1 deadlock against New Zealand has led midfielder Daniele De Rossi to realize his team must improve to avoid a major disappointment.

"We'll have to improve quickly, because otherwise we won't be going far," the Italian midfielder said. "We weren't at our best and we can do a lot better than that. It's not a problem with our forwards - it's the whole team that didn't play well. We spent most of the game in their half and had some good chances, but it wasn't enough."

If Italy has been well below par to this point, Slovakia has been even more disappointing, losing 2-0 to Paraguay after a 1-1 draw with New Zealand.

Slovakia seemingly had three points in the bag in its opener, but a goal from New Zealand's Winston Reid deep into stoppage time forced it to settle for a draw before a lackluster effort against Paraguay.

"I really don't know what our problem is," Slovakia midfielder Miroslav Stoch said after the Paraguay defeat. "We are making a lot of mistakes, especially at the back. We knew they would be a difficult side to beat but we couldn't make enough openings."

If Slovakia wants any chance of advancing, it better start to make a few openings because it will need a win over Italy as well as a loss or draw by New Zealand to go through.

Italy can still book a place in the next round with a win, but its chances of topping the group have greatly diminished, meaning a second-round match with the Netherlands could await.

06/23 13:00:30 ET