World champions Italy sent crashing


ITALY coach Marcello Lippi admitted his side had been struck by “terror” but accepted full responsibility after the holders were sent crashing out at the first hurdle.

Defeat to Slovakia condemned Italy to last place in Group F, below rank outsiders New Zealand, and ensured an ignominious end to Lippi’s second spell in charge.

World champions Italy scored twice in the last 10 minutes of a gripping match, but it was not enough to prevent the biggest shock of the tournament, as Slovakia set up a last-16 clash with Holland.

“I take all responsibility for what happened,” said Lippi, who steered Italy to glory four
years ago but had already decided to step down after this World Cup.

“If a team turns up with terror in their heart and legs, and is unable to express its ability, it’s because the coach didn’t train them as he should.”

Italy were two goals down after a Robert Vittek brace when Antonio di Natale tapped in to give them hope of salvaging the draw they needed in the 81st minute.

Lippi, inset, thought he had survived an almighty scare when Fabio Quagliarella netted, only for the goal to be disallowed for the most marginal of offsides.

Slovakia then struck the killer blow with one minute remaining when substitute Kamil Kopunek stole in behind a napping Italian defence to prod a third.

Quagliarella chipped the goal of the tournament as the Azzurri frantically chased an equaliser, but Slovakia held on to secure the best result in their history.

“Obviously I didn’t expect us to perform as great as we did,” said coach Vladimir Weiss, after earning Slovakia a place in the knockout stages on their World Cup debut.

“But credit must go to the players for the commitment and fighting spirit they showed today.”

Italy’s elimination follows France’s group stage exit and means both finalists from Germany 2006 are already out.