Defending World Cup champion Italy offered “no excuses” after a defeat to Slovakia resulted in its first failure to get beyond the opening stage since 1974.
Yesterday’s 3-2 loss at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park followed ties with Paraguay and New Zealand, leaving the Italians at the bottom of a group that bookmakers had rated them as favorites to top and sending Slovakia through with the South American team.
“We drew two matches and we lost one,” Italy squad member Mauro Camoranesi, an unused substitute yesterday, said after the match. “We have no excuses.”
Italy had entered the soccer tournament in South Africa seeking to tie Brazil’s record tally of five World Cup titles. Marcello Lippi’s team instead follow 1998 champion France, which didn’t win a game or score a goal four years later, in failing to take its trophy defense beyond the group stage.
While the Italian squad may not meet the same fate as its 1966 predecessor, which was pelted with rotten fruit by fans on returning home after exiting in the group stage following a shock loss to North Korea, Lippi and his team were remorseful.
“I didn’t train them sufficiently,” Lippi, who retained nine players from the 2006 title-winning campaign, told reporters. “I offer my apologies to Italian sport, the players, the football association, everyone.”
Italy fell behind in the 25th minute when Robert Vittek shot from outside the penalty area and went 2-0 down in the 73rd when Vittek added his second goal. A late rally that led to goals from Antonio di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella in the 81st minute and second-half stoppage time wasn’t enough as Kamil Kopunek sealed Slovakia’s victory in the 89th minute.
Quagliarella had a goal disallowed for offside in the 85th minute and a shot stopped on the goal line by defender Martin Skrtel, while striker Vincenzo Iaquinta missed several chances.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Gianluigi Buffon, Italy’s first-choice goalkeeper who missed the match because of injury. “Italy is better than this. This is a moment of great difficulty and crisis.”
Paraguay finished atop the group with five points ahead of Slovakia with four. New Zealand ended on three points, one more than Italy, after three draws.
Italy supporters in the Ellis Park crowd said the squad, ranked fifth in the world by soccer’s governing body FIFA, should have done better at the tournament.
“I am very disappointed, even against New Zealand they didn’t perform,” said Dylan Raffanti, a 31-year-old South African with Italian ancestry, who has been waiting to watch Italy since the age of 5. “Why didn’t they play the whole game like they played in the last ten minutes?”
Lippi had been criticized in Italy for not doing enough to rejuvenate the team. Captain Fabio Cannavaro, 36, is moving to Al Ahli in Dubai after his Italian club, Juventus, didn’t renew his contract.
“I’m sorry for the choices I made,” Lippi said.
Buffon, who won the World Cup in 2006 alongside players including Francesco Totti and Alessandro del Piero, said the team needs to rebuild.
“Today this is the Italian squad,” Buffon said. “In three months perhaps we will have a new Totti and a new Del Piero.”