Italy v Slovakia

Vuvuzela Rating: 6.4 – Excitable Blasts.

With such a weight of expectation upon the reigning world champions, Italy would be looking be looking to stamp their authority upon Slovakia to sure up their shaky campaign so far. Much like England the Auzzuri have not only failed to achieve the results to establish a lead within the group, but also failed to produce the performances needed to assure their supporters. Slovakia comparatively will have nothing to fear when approaching this final game, knowing that a win would give them a good chance of qualifying from the group.

The opening exchanges were cagier than a pet shop as both sides looked to settle the nerves. Both Iaquinta and Hamsik had wayward efforts at goal but neither really threatened to put the ball anywhere near the back of the net. The first yellow card of the afternoon went to Slovakia’s Strba after he fouled midfield terrier Gatusso and the Italian responded by diving a full 4 metres into the air before descending onto the turf. The freekick came to nothing and Slovakia began to pose more questions going forward. It didn’t take much longer for De Rossi to smash the self-destruct button, he gave the ball away in midfield and after a slick move Vittek calmly slotted the ball past a helpless Marchetti to give his side a well earned lead. Injured first choice goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was seen being physically sick at his understudy’s vain attempt to prevent the shot going in.

Wiley old coot Fabio Cannavaro went into Howard Webb’s notebook after half an hour when he body-checked the lively Juraj Kucka as he made a surging run into the Italian half. The Italians were rattled, and it showed. Cannavaro looked so out of his depth that he needed water wings trying to deal with the Slovakian advances, committing another cynical challenge on Hamsik.

A few minutes later goal scorer Robert Vittek put in a revenge reducer on the Italian captain and joined Cannavaro in the referee’s book. The bad blood continued, literally, as Gattuso managed to open up the knee cap of Strba during a challenge, causing a lengthy delay whilst the Slovakian medical team attempted to put his leg back together. That was the last event of note in the first half and Italy had a mountain to climb in the second 45.

Lippi made two changes at half time in an attempt to refresh his attacking options, bringing on Christian Magio and Fabio Quagliarella. It almost paid off immediately when Vicento Iaquinta had a chance from a cross but headed wide. As the Slovakian goalkeeper Mucha, who is often confused with an ex-Sugababe, went to fetch the ball he theatrically went down after gentle encouragement by Quagliarella. This was a sign that the time-wasting had well and truly begun despite only 50 minutes of the match having passed. Pirlo was bought on as the third substitute with 35 minutes left, Italy were going all out to try and get something out of the game.

Quagliarella caused more problems for the Slovakian defence and in the melee of a corner he smashed a shot which was cleared off the line by Martin Skrtel. The game opened up in the final half an hour and former Chelsea winger Miroslav Stoch smashed a shot just wide of the Italian goal. Just minutes later Vittek doubled the lead for Slovakia, slotting home at the near post after a ball across the six yard line. Italy looked broken, and the pain etched on the bench was testament to that.

Then all hell broke loose, after a fantastic run by Quagliarella and shot from Iaquinta, Di Natale slotted home the rebound to get Italy back into the game. As Quagliarella went to retrieve the ball from the goal he became entwined in a back of the net scrap with Mucha. Howard Webb booking both parties for their antics. Moments later Quagliarella was involved again as he tapped in a low cross only to have his effort ruled out for offside, you could hear the Mafia grumbling linesman Darren Cann’s name all the way from South Africa.

Slovakia brought on Kopanek in the final moments and with his first touch he burst through the leaky Italian defence to lift the ball over Marcetti to make it 3-1 to Slovakia and seal the Italians fate. But there was yet more to come. Quagliarella found himself 25 yards out and executed a deft chip over Mucha to make it 3-2 and give Italy a glimmer of hope once more. Pepe wasted a good chance at the far post with only seconds left but essentially sealed the Auzzuri’s fate. Italy finished bottom of the group and Slovakia will progress to the knockout stages in second place in Group F, it was truly memorising stuff and will live long in the memory of neutrals.

84 – The ITV commentary team mentioned the squad of 2006 84 times in the first half alone. Nostalgia.

2,500 – After Rino Gattuso’s removed Zdenko Strba’s knee cap, 2,500 people watching found themselves being physically ill. Lunch.

5,468,196 – During celebratory parties in Bratislava tonight, over 5,468,196 alcoholic beverages will be consumed. Tipple.

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