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World Cup Recap - Slovakia vs. Italy

(Thursday, June 24)

Final Score: Slovakia 3, Italy 2

Johannesburg, South Africa (Sports Network) - Robert Vittek scored goals on each side of the half as Slovakia held on late to down the defending FIFA World Cup champions Italy, 3-2, at Ellis Park Stadium in Group F action on Thursday.

With the win, Slovakia not only advances to the round of 16, but eliminates the Italians, who didn't pick up a single win in the group stage after winning the Cup in 2006 in Germany.

"This is a huge win," Vittek said. "We've pushed the boundaries of Slovakian football. We never would have dared dream of this. I'm overjoyed. We proved that we're capable of great things. My individual performance doesn't matter; only the performance of the team counts."

The Azzurri, who finish in last in Group F, are the fourth defending champion to be knocked out in the group stage, joining France in 2002, Brazil in 1966 and Italy in 1950.

"I assume complete responsibility for this failure," Italy coach Marcello Lippi 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. That's obvious. I offer my apologies to Italian sport, the players, the football association, everyone."

Paraguay was held to a 0-0 draw with New Zealand in the other Group F match on Thursday but still won the group, while Slovakia earned the runner-up spot.

Although Slovakia had the better of the play in the first half, Italy got things started in the first minute when a long shot by Antonio Di Natale went just over the bar.

The Slovakians had a chance to go up in the first 15 minutes, but Marik Hamsik missed a wide-open volley from 15-yards out after the ball was flicked into the Italy penalty area.

Ten minutes later the Slovakians were able to go up 1-0, however, when Vittek finished a quick pass from Juraj Kucka after he stole the ball off Daniele De Rossi. Vittek received the ball at the top the 18-yard box, and quickly turned and slotted a perfectly-placed shot into the left corner.

The goal was the third Italy has given up on just three shots on goal to that point of the tournament.

Italian goalkeeper Federico Marchetti made his first save since taking over for the injured Gianluigi Buffon at halftime of his team's Group F opener when Zdenko Strba tested him with a long-range shot that was knocked out-of-bounds in the 35th minute.

That ended up being the only save an Italian goalkeeper would make the entire tournament.

Italy started to push for the equalizer after the hour mark, a few minutes after a less than fully fit AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo entered the game to try and add some offense to his stagnant club.

There were no real significant chances for the Azzurri until the 67th minute when Fabio Quagliarella volleyed a chance on goal after a service was deflected by Slovakian goalkeeper Jan Mucha. But defender Martin Skrtel got in front of the ball to clear it inches before it crossed the goal line.

Vittek made it 2-0 for the Slovakians after a corner kick was cleared by the defense back to the corner to Marik Hamsik. Hamsik then played a low cross to the top of the six to Vittek, who beat Marchetti to the near post in the 73rd minute.

Di Natale pulled the Italians back within one in the 81st minute to set up a furious finish when he knocked in a rebound after Mucha made a save on Quagliarella from in tight.

Kamil Kopunek restored Slovakia's two-goal advantage when he caught Italy sleeping eight minutes later by chipping a shot over Marchetti from in close after a throw-in from the right side before Quagliarella beat Mucha with a perfectly-placed shot into the top-left corner from distance to make it 3-2 in the 93rd minute.

"This is a fantastic day for Slovakia and the second greatest day of my life after the birth of my son," Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said. "We were under pressure before we took on the reigning champions, but we prepared for this match perfectly. I'm proud of my players. They put in a performance of the very highest level and played a fantastic game."

06/24 15:28:10 ET

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