Howard Webb and his assistants denied the Azzurri what looked like a
valid equaliser as Slovakia sealed second place in Group F.
Robert Vittek's brace put Slovakia in control but Antonio Di Natale
halved the deficit and Fabio Quagliarella looked like he had levelled it
at 2-2, but an offside decision went against him.
Substitute Kamil Kopunek made it 3-1 to Slovakia before
Quagliarella's brilliant lob gave Italy fleeting hope, but it could
not find a third to save its skins and joined fellow 2006 finalist
France in bowing out of the tournament.
Italy started positively enough with Di Natale's volley almost
catching out Slovakia goalkeeper Jan Mucha inside the first 30 seconds.
Vincenzo Iaquinta then dragged a shot well wide after good link-up
play with Di Natale before Napoli midfielder Marek Hamsik, Slovakia's
star man and captain, miscued a volley after the ball was flicked on to
him by Vittek.
Iaquinta had the ball in the net after 10 minutes but Webb had
already blown for a foul by the Juventus forward on defender Jan Durica
in the box.
Webb produced his first yellow card for Slovakia midfielder Zdenko
Strba, who caught the hard-tackling Gennaro Gattuso late.
Slovakia had to win to go through and it forged ahead in the 25th
minute when Daniele De Rossi's stray pass was picked up by Juraj Kucka
and he rolled a pass forward to Vittek who directed a low right-foot
shot past Italy goalkeeper Federico Marchetti from the edge of the box.
Strba could have made it 2-0 with a fierce 30-yard drive which
Marchetti had to dive to his right to push wide for a corner as the half
entered its final 10 minutes. Italy was lacking in inspiration and a
speculative Riccardo Montolivo effort from long range drifted harmlessly
Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel had to head over his own crossbar
from a floated Gattuso cross, and the AC Milan battler then cut open
Strba's knee in a tackle. The midfielder asked to continue though, with
substitute Kopunek returning to his seat.
Slovakia ended the half on a high and almost conjured the goal of the
tournament when Vittek cleverly worked the ball back to Kucka for a
viciously-struck volley which flashed into the side-netting.
Italy brought on forward Quagliarella for Gattuso and Christian
Maggio for Domenico Criscito at half-time and it created the first
opening of the second half when Iaquinta headed off target from a Simone
Di Natale should have done better when played in by Maggio after 55
minutes, skewing a shot wide with only Mucha to beat. The biggest
Italian cheer of the afternoon to that point greeted Andrea Pirlo's
introduction in place of Montolivo, as Azzurri fans hoped he held the
key to a revival in the match.
Di Natale hit 29 Serie A goals for Udinese last season but could not
find a way past Slovakia as a curling shot from the edge of the box was
held by Mucha.
Italy came within a whisker of an equaliser when Pepe's cross sailed
over Mucha's head and Quagliarella fired goalwards with the keeper
committed, but Skrtel got back to block on the goalline.
The holder was taking more chances, allowing Slovakia to find more
space on the break and Miroslav Stoch flashed one shot across
The game looked up for the champion though in the 73rd minute when
Hamsik half-volleyed the ball across from the right and Vittek got to it
before Giorgio Chiellini to steer it in at the near post.
Italy pulled one back with nine minutes to go after a clever one-two
with Iaquinta played Quagliarella in and when Mucha parried his shot, Di
Natale was on hand to prod the ball in. There was then a skirmish
inside the goal as Quagliarella scrapped with Mucha to retrieve the
ball, with Webb booking both men.
Quagliarella thought he had equalised when he turned home a Di Natale
cross from the left, but the Napoli man was flagged offside by Darren
Cann in the tightest of decisions.
A throw-in by Peter Pekarik then caught Italy sleeping and substitute
Kopunek raced through to lob the ball over Marchetti.
Quagliarella pulled one back with a sublime lob but Pepe fluffed
its final chance deep into stoppage-time.