No, there are no errors in that title, and no, you’re not losing it. There is no Italy to speak of anymore in this tournament. The defending champions will be on their way home, just as their opponents from 2006 were the other day. Soccer is exciting, soccer is crazy, soccer is…freaking strange.
The Italians lost 3-2 at the hands (feet?) of a largely dominant Slovakia today, capping an unimpressive group stage for the Azzurri. The statistics will tell you it was an even game in terms of numbers – possession was nearly even, with Slovakia taking the tiniest of edges with 51%; the Italians had 16 shots to their opponents’ 10 (or 12, depending on what site you read); four yellow cards to each side; and so on. But as far as the actual performance, it was decidedly uneven for most of the match. Italy looked slow and tentative early on and through much of the game. Their passing was mediocre at times, abysmal at others – such as when Daniele de Rossi essentially gifted the ball to the opposition, leading to a goal from Robert Vittek in the 25th minute. Losing possession in midfield was a consistent problem for the Italians, as was a seeming shakiness in defense when confronted with an attack. Slovakia’s defense was strong, and it wasn’t until the 81st minute – down 2-0 after Vittek notched a second goal from close range in the 73rd – that Italy finally answered with a strike from Antonio Di Natale, and their play actually seemed to leave second gear. It got very dramatic here in these final minutes: Italy was suddenly throwing everything they had into the match when Kamil Kopunek added a third for Slovakia in the 89th, followed three minutes later by a Fabio Quagliarella strike to make it 3-2. It went at a frenetic pace until the final whistle, when Slovakia engaged in a group celebration of their victory, and Italy shuffled off the pitch, likely dreading the reactions awaiting them back home.
This seems to be another case of a top team assuming they will win, assuming they have no worries, and allowing those assumptions to take the place of good performances. We all know games aren’t played on paper, and that soccer is very much an “any given day” kind of sport, but Italy should not have had any trouble advancing from this easy group. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been trying, or that leaving the trying to the last 10 minutes of the third match is enough. It wasn’t – they finish at the bottom of their group and now have a long road home to ponder their mistakes and the dangers of overconfidence.
In the other Group F match, Paraguay and New Zealand played to a nil-nil draw, which was still enough to put the South American side at the top of their group. Paraguay out-shot and out-possessed their opponents by great margins, bested by the Kiwis only in the negative areas of fouls committed and offside calls. Either New Zealand’s defense was too strong or Paraguay was simply playing for the draw – or maybe both? Despite it not reading like much of a match, both sides come out of it well – Paraguay advancing as group winners, and New Zealand headed home but with a very impressive showing, going undefeated, garnering their first points ever in the World Cup and finishing in third ahead of Italy. Not too bad for a team ranked #78!