Day 14 produced the biggest shock of the tournament so far, as Reigning World champions Italy crashed out at the group stages, defeated 3-2 by Slovakia in a thrilling encounter. Elsewhere, a point was enough for Paraguay to join Slovakia in the last 16 while Japan beat Denmark 3-1 to progress to the knockout stages alongside Holland who maintained their perfect record with a narrow 2-1 victory over Cameroon.
Vittek 25,73, Kopunek 89
Di Natale 81, Quagliarella 90+2
Slovakia recorded a remarkable 3-2 victory over defending champions Italy who crashed out in the Group stages after an enthralling encounter. Slovakia had started brightly and took a deserved lead on 25 minutes when Italian midfielder Daniel De Rossi gave the ball away just outside his own penalty area and Slovakian striker Robert Vittek slide the ball into the bottom corner to give his side a shock advantage.
Italy introduced star man Andrea Pirlo and winger Fabio Quagliarella after the break and just their presence seemed to spark a revival from Azzurri. They were on the ropes though when after 73 minutes Vittek stole a yard on his marker before steering an effort inside the near post to establish a two goal cushion. Just eight minutes later, Italy pulled a goal back when Quagliarella’s shot was parried straight to Antonio Di Natale to slot into the empty net. While Italy desperately pressed for the goal that would see them progress, Slovakia put the nail in the coffin with just one minute of normal time remaining, substitute Kopunek making an intelligent burst from midfield before calmly lifting the ball over goalkeeper Federico Marchetti. Even then Italy were not done with and the influential Quagliarella produced a moment of brilliance, chipping the goalkeeper from the edge of the area to give the defending champions hope. It was too little too late though as Italy joined France in exiting the competition after finishing bottom of their group f.
NEW ZEALAND 0
Paraguay successfully secured their place in round 2 after an uneventful 0-0 draw with New Zealand, who exit the competition unbeaten. New Zealand entered the game knowing a victory would see them progress, but adopted a familiar cautious approach while Paraguay, who knew a draw would be enough were the more adventurous but were aware to the threat of New Zealand on the break. After both goalkeeper’s were rather inactive during the first 45 minutes, New Zealand stopper Mark Paston was kept on his toes in the second half, producing smart saves from Edgar Benitez and Cristian Riveros to maintain a clean sheet.
New Zealand did push forward in the closing minutes but had left it far too late and failed to trouble Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar once in the whole 90 minutes as the sides played out a stalemate, enough for Paraguay to progress to the knockout stages while New Zealand have exceeded expectations this summer and look to have a bright future ahead of them.
Honda 17, Endo 30, Okazaki 87
Two spectacular first half free kicks set Japan on their way to an impressive 3-1 victory over Denmark, setting up a second round clash with Paraguay. With a point enough to take Japan through, the emphasis was on Denmark to try and break them down and they were close to successfully doing so when Jon-Dahl Tomasson’s effort slid just inches wide of the far post.
Despite Denmark’s early pressure, Japan were looking dangerous on the counter attack and took the lead on 17 minutes when Keisuka Honda smashed a free-kick from the right channel across Thomas Sorensen and into the left hand corner to give the Danes a mountain to climb. Their task was made significantly more difficult when Yasuhito Endo matched Honda’s effort, curling a more central free kick round the wall and into the bottom corner to double his sides lead.
Denmark were seeing their hopes disappearing, wasting further second half chances to pull a goal back. With just under ten minutes left on the clock, referee Jerome Damon pointed to the penalty spot after Daniel Agger had been pushed to the ground. Tomasson saw his tame spot kick saved by Eija Kawashima before squeezing home the rebound. It was all in vain though as Japan sealed victory with a third goal, Honda unselfishly squaring for substitute Shinji Okazaki to convert past Thomas Sorensen and secure a place amongst the World’s elite sides in the second round.
Eto’o 65 (pen)
Van Persie 36, Huntelaar 83
Holland maintained their 100% record, defeating Cameroon 2-1 in Cape Town. The game held no real significance, with Cameroon out of the competition and playing for pride, while Holland had already secured their spot in the knockout stages. The African nation started strongly, and threatened to take the lead on numerous occasions without forcing Maarten Stelkenburg into a decent stop. Holland gradually found their feet and took the lead through Robin Van Persie, who finished of a neat move to but the Dutch ahead on 36 minutes.
Cameroon levelled after the break, Samuel Eto’o converting from the penalty spot after Geremi’s free kick had struck Rafael Van der Vaart on the arm. Cameroon looked the most likely to find a winner in the closing stages but Holland broke in devastating fashion with seven minutes left, Klass Jan Huntelaar converting from a tight angle after Arjen Robben had sent a fierce shot against the post to steal the three points. Holland now face a rejuvenated Slovakian side in what looks an intriguing last 16 clash.