Italy took on Slovakia in the final game with either side needing a win to try and make it to the last 16. Slovakia signalled their intent in the early stages of the game, with Marek Hamsik missing in front of goal. The Repre played the better football and it just goes to show how poor the Azzurris have been in this summer's football showcase. Italy was undone by their inability to beat New Zealand and had to face the dangerous Slovakia. Robert Vittek's two goals pushed him into the unlikely position of top goalscorer in the tournament together with David Villa and Gonzalo Higuain.
Only when the Italians were three goals down, did they manage to put to show any fight. The presence of midfield playmaker, Andrea Pirlo must have had something to do with that. The loss of Buffon quite clearly was a blow to the defence, as Marchetti is not as commanding as the Italian superstar. So a remarkable turnaround and a shocking defeat to Hamsik's side. Slovakia, unbelievably, took second spot in Group F.
Paraguay rested star striker Lucas Barrios against New Zealand and when he finally came on, he looked the best player on the pitch. Mark Paston emerged once again from this match with an enhanced reputation. He has been the outstanding player in this Kiwi side. New Zealand finished unbeaten and has defied opinion that they were to be cannon fodder in Group F.
Paraguayan stalwart, Denis Caniza played in his fourth World Cup against the Kiwis. He was naturally pleased that Los Guaranies made it to the last 16. However he warned,
“It’s something we have spoken about. We can’t afford to relax and celebrate what we’ve done so far if we want to make history. This achievement is nothing special for Paraguay now, and the key part of the competition is only just beginning. This World Cup has been very evenly balanced so far. We’ve seen France go out and Italy from our group too, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t still be in the hunt in the final week.”
In possibly the poorest group in terms of quality of football played, La Albirroja was the best side. Slovakia had two players to thank for their last 16 progress, Vittek and Weiss Jr. New Zealand captured the hearts of everyone with their fighting displays. Humiliated Italy joins France on the former winners scrapheap.
Paraguay will face the in-form Japan at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium while Robin Van Persie will relish the physical challenge and close marking of Martin Skrtel at Durban Stadium.