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World Cup Thursday: Italian Implosion

Group F

Italy's frantic fightback was too little too late as the Azurri were eliminated 3-2 by Slovakia in a spine-tingling finish, the best 20 minutes of the tournament so far. Paraguay drew New Zealand 0-0 in the other game to leave the South Americans top of the group and Slovakia in second place.

A brace from Robert Vittek seemingly sent Slovakia on their way to the second round but Italy woke up after going 2-0 down.  Antonio di Natale banged in a spilled ball with 10 minutes to go and the game was back on. Italy had the equalizer denied for offside (looked level to me) and Kamil Kopunek scored on his first touch with a video game goal (running onto a ball thrown at the net) to restore the two-goal advantage.  Substitute Fabio Quagliarella pulled a goal back for Italy in stoppage time but it wouldn't be enough. The Slovaks fell over after every whistle toward the end and while four minutes' added time was indicated, English referee Howard Webb gave the Italians every opportunity by playing seven.

New Zealand go home after three successive draws. While the All-Whites will trumpet their unbeaten status, in three matches they managed only three shots on goal total. The rest of the tournament will be better without them.

Group E

Japan won the crunch game with Denmark 3-1 and will now face Paraguay in the Round of 16. Holland won 2-1 to top the group and set up a winnable Round of 16 match with Slovakia.

Japan used two brilliant free kicks to open up a first-half lead on Denmark. Keisuke Honda hit one with power on 17 minutes and Yasuhito Endo took a little off a finesse offering on the half hour. We haven't seen many goals from free kicks in these championships and those were surely two of the best—and delivered in a losers-go-home atmosphere. Jon Dahl Tomasson missed a penalty but stuffed home the spillage to bring Denmark to 2-1 down, but even a draw wouldn't be enough for the Danes—and substitute Shinji Okazaki took advantage of the holes and made it 3-1 two minutes from time.

Arjen Robben came on after 73 minutes in the Holland match, but I was watching the Japan game so I don't know how he played. Greybeard Rigobert Song came on at the same time for Cameroon in what might be his international finale. Robin v. Persie spotted the Dutch a halftime lead. Samuel Eto'o leveled from the spot before Klaas Jan Huntelaar won it late for Holland.