It is the decisive day in Group F.
Kick-Off: Thursday, June 24, 16:00 CET.
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg.
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg.
Win Or Bust
Slovakia are making their debut in the World Cup as an independent nation and their presence in the world's most prestigious football competition is an achievement in itself. However, for a side of their quality, the Slovaks were certainly expected to do much better than they have done so far in South Africa.
At the moment Slovakia are at the bottom of Group F with just a single point from two games. Vladimir Weiss's side started their World Cup campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw with minnows New Zealand and were then comprehensively outclassed 2-0 by Paraguay, putting them a step closer to the exit door.
Slovakia need to win their final group match against Italy if they aspire to progress through to the second round, and in all likelihood they would have to eke out a win by a considerable margin just in case New Zealand defeat Paraguay, which would then mean that Slovakia and Paraguay would finish level on four points.
If Paraguay win or draw their game with the Kiwis, then a win by any margin would do for Slovakia, who, however, have been very poor in front of goal; although Italy don't have an exceptionally great defense, they have looked good at the back so far.
Staring At Humiliation
At the start of the World Cup no one seriously believed that Italy would go on and successfully defend their World Cup title but most thought they would win their group. Pitted against Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand, the Azzurri were expected to comfortably march to the second round, but, as things stand in Group F, they may be forced to book an early flight back home.
At the moment Marcello Lippi's side are second in the group with two points from two games. Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Paraguay in their opening match in South Africa and that was followed by a 1-1 draw with minnows New Zealand, a match that they actually could have lost towards the end. Two successive draws have left a lackluster Italy side in a precarious position.
For the Azzurri to attain qualification to the last 16, they need to win against Slovakia and if they do so then they needn't bother about the result in the other match. A draw with the Slovaks would be enough too, but only if Paraguay defeat New Zealand or there is a draw between the two which leaves Italy ahead of the Kiwis on goals scored.
June 20: Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay (World Cup)
June 15: New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia (World Cup)
June 5: Slovakia 3-0 Costa Rica (Friendly)
May 29: Slovakia 1-1 Cameroon (Friendly)
March 3: Slovakia 0-1 Norway (Friendly)
June 20: Italy 1-1 New Zealand (World Cup)
June 14: Italy 1-1 Paraguay (World Cup)
June 5: Switzerland 1-1 Italy (Friendly)
June 3: Italy 1-2 Mexico (Friendly)
March 3: Italy 0-0 Cameroon (Friendly)
Coach Vladimir Weiss could change his attack line-up a bit and could start with midfielder Miroslav Stoch, who seems to have recovered from his knee injury. Marek Cech could also start ahead of Kornel Salata.
Probable Line-up (4-2-3-1): Mucha, Pekarik, Skrtel, Cech, Durica; Strba, Stoch; Weiss, Hamsik, Vittek; Sestak
Midfielder Andrea Pirlo has resumed training and is likely to be drafted into the starting line-up on Thursday. Claudio Marchisio is the player to be dropped to make space for the Milan deep-lying playmaker. Sampdoria striker Giampaolo Pazzini could also come in and so could Antonio Di Natale, meaning that Simone Pepe and Alberto Gilardino could be relegated to the bench. Gianluigi Buffon remains injured for the fixture.
Probable Line-up (4-3-3): Marchetti, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito; Montolivo, De Rossi, Pirlo; Iaquinta, Pazzini, Di Natale
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Robert Vittek (Slovakia)
Slovakia have scored just one goal so far in the World Cup and that was scored by Robert Vittek. The 28-year-old will have to step up his game and find the target for the Slovaks against Italy on Thursday if the World Cup debutantes still aspire to progress through to the second round.
Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
The deep-lying playmaker missed the first two group games for Italy at the World Cup because of a calf injury but he has now resumed full training with the Azzurri. Pirlo is arguably the only world class creative midfielder in the current Italian squad who can invent the game, and his return will boost the defending world champions' chances of winning against Slovakia and advancing to the last 16.
Slovakia have been hugely disappointing so far in the World Cup and it is unlikely that they will be able to pull themselves out of the pit against Italy. Indeed, the Castrol World Cup match predictor gives them just a 20% chance of winning and Italy a 55% chance; a draw is put at 25%. The Azzurri should win this match but they have been struggling for goals, so a 1-0 victory is the maximum they can aspire for.
Slovakia 0-1 Italy
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