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Italy FINISHED: Slovakia Eliminates Defending World Cup Champions

AP/Huffington Post   ANDREW DAMPF   First Posted: 06/24/10 12:58 PM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 05:50 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG — Defending champion Italy was eliminated Thursday from the World Cup with a humbling 3-2 loss to Slovakia, which advanced.

Slovakia finished second in Group F to Paraguay. The Italians were last, the first time they've 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.

Slovakia v Italy: Group F - 2010 FIFA World Cup
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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 24: The Slovakia team form a huddle prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group F match between Slovakia and Italy at Ellis Park Stadium on June 24, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
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It marked the end of an era for Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso, who already announced their retirement from the national team after the tournament. Coach Marcello Lippi is also moving on, with Cesare Prandelli already chosen as his successor.

Italy's squad featured nine players 30 or over and Prandelli will be charged with a major overhaul. Italy hasn't won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November, drawing five times and losing twice.

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 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.

Vittek's opening goal came on a low shot just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Federico Marchetti, who again replaced the injured Gianluigi Buffon. He then went around Giorgio Chiellini from close range following a corner kick for his second goal.

Di Natale slid in a rebound from Quagliarella's shot and, with four forwards on, Quagliarella nearly equalized in the 85th, but was ruled offside by the smallest of margins.

Slovakia restored its two-goal lead in the 89th when substitute Kopunek lifted a bouncing ball over Marchetti.

Quagliarella finally found the target in the second minute of added time with a delicate lob.

Still, for 80 minutes Italy's forwards were unable to find the target, and no forward scored in open play during the Azzurri's opening two matches.