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World Cup – Day 14, Group F

This group was wide open when play started this morning, although Paraguay was in the driver seat.

Slovakia 3 – Italy 2

This was the most exciting game of the tournament so far.  It had everything .. great play, good refereeing, goals, disallowed goals, and lots of emotion. The champs Italy finally showed some drive and urgency, although it was too little too late. They clearly missed Gigi Buffon, their talisman and leader. That said, Slovakia outplayed the Azzurri and deserved this win and the advancement which it earned them.

Slovakia played better in the early stages, and were rewarded when Eric Jendrisek intercepted a lazy Daniele De Rossi pass, and slipped it forward to Robert Vittek at the top of the circle, and Vittek beat Italian second choice goalie Roberto Marchetti.

The last 20 minutes of the match were stellar! Vittek scored again on 73′, putting Slovakia up 2-0, then Italy brought one back through Di Natale on 81′.  There was some controversy after this goal when an Italian chased the ball into the next to move things along and got into it with the goalie. English referee Webb dealt with it properly by giving each player a caution. The Italians had a goal (correctly) disqualified for offside on 86′, and three minutes Kopunek scored, putting the Slovakians up 3 -1.  But Italy kept charging, and two minutes into stoppage time Quagliarella scored a magnificent chip from about 25 yards.  The final minutes were spent in the Slovakian half, but the Italians couldn’t convert. So, they go home.  As many have noted, the Italians simply brought too little too late.

If you haven’t seen this game .. watch it. I suspect it will be replayed tonight on ESPN (in the USA) or on ESPN Classic, or watch it on ESPN3.

As an aside, my favorite ref Howard Webb did a fine job dealing equitably with the Italian drama and fakery. He gave 8 yellows but no reds, and kept everyone’s head level.   I hope he sees more action in the later stages.

Paraguay 0 – New Zealand 0

There wasn’t a whole lot to watch here.  Paraguay was better, but neither team could seriously penetrate the other’s defense.  The draw sends Paraguay on and sends New Zealand, a sentimental favorite second only to the hosts, home.

Paraguay finishes first in the group and plays Japan.  I think this game is a toss up.  Slovakia qualifies in second and plays the Netherlands. They should be confident after beating Italy, but the Dutch have to be heavy favorites.

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