(Results: Italy 2-3 Slovakia, Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand, Denmark 1-3 Japan, Cameroon 1-2 Netherlands)
Upset of the day – Slovakia beats Italy 3-2
In a do-or-die encounter for both the teams, the Slovakians emerged victorious over their more illustrious counterparts, with front man Robert Vittek the chief architect of Italy’s destruction. His brace seemed to have put the Azzurri to the sword, but it conversely triggered a display of attacking football from a lethargic Italian side. Italy pulled back one through Di Natale, before Kamil Kopunek scored a beauty of a lob to restore Slovakia’s two-goal lead. However, an audacious chipped goal by Quagliarella added further excitement to the match, but it was not enough to snatch a point from an inspired Slovakian side. This World Cup never seems to be short of major upsets.
Fly away home, Italy!
Goal of the day – Keisuke Honda (Japan)
The day saw some breath-taking goals worthy of a mention in this section – Kamil Kopunek’s one touch lob from a throw-in, Quagliarella’s excellent chip under pressure to hand Italy a possible life line, Keisuke Honda’s stunner of a free kick against Denmark, Van Persie’s right-footed shot from close range and Yasuhito Endo’s curling free kick into the right corner of the goal. Honda’s goal is arguably one of the best free kicks of the tournament – a bullet spot-kick from 35 yards out travelling at 109 km/hr, which evaded the fully outstretched hands of Thomas Sorensen.
Save of the day – Martin Skrtel (Slovakia)
The Slovak goalkeeper Mucha failed to punch out a cross by Pepe from the right side and was left stranded on the ground, as the ball landed at the feet of Quagliarella to the left of the goalpost. The Italian midfielder let loose a ferocious volley towards the unguarded goal, but Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel appeared at the right place in front of goal as if by magic, to make a goal line clearance. He prevented what could have been a decisive goal for the Azzurri, ensuring that Slovakia proceeded to the round of sixteen at their expense.
Ugly moments of the day – Slovakia versus Italy, first half
If there was a game where football didn’t look like football at all, it was the first half of this match. The players in both sides resorted to countless hard tackles, in an attempt to halt the momentum of the opponent side. The Azzurri, bereft of ideas in the center of the midfield, targeted the Slovakian players legs’ instead of the Jabulani, and the Slovaks replied in kind; at times, the game resembled more a rugby match than the beautiful game. Cannavaro and Chiellini were at the giving and receiving end of several flying tackles, with Iaquinta and Gattuso chipping in with cynical physical performances. The Slovaks matched up to the Italians in this department, and Howard Webb had a very busy time maintaining a semblance of balance on the field. But no one would have expected Slovakia to take physical football one notch up, as Slovakia’s custodian Mucha punched Quagriella while the latter attempted to retrieve the ball from Slovakia’s net after Italy’s first goal.
Joke of the day – Group F table
A group which was expected to be easy for the Azzurri saw the tables turned on them, as Italian fans witnessed their team endure a miserable World Cup campaign. Not only did they succumb to Slovakia, they were the only team in Group F to suffer a loss. What is even more embarrassing for Marcelo Lippi and his players is how the table looks right now; New Zealand, a side ranked 73 places below Italy and comprising of some part-time football players, ended up in third position with three draws against far superior opponents – quite a remarkable achievement for Rickie Herbert and the All Whites. The table clearly hints that the Italian team needs a overhaul and must blood youngsters who can help their country to regain its glorious football history.
Star of the day – Keisuke Honda (Japan)
The CSKA Moscow midfield dynamo was a livewire on the pitch, and was the main instigator of the Samurai Blues’ comprehensive victory over the Danes. His partnership with the veteran midfielder Yasuhito Endo was the focal point of Japan’s offensive strategy in the game, as he bamboozled the Danish defense with his pace, trickery and astute passing movement. His free kick for Japan’s first goal was breath-taking, and his involvement in Japan’s third goal to seal their entry to the next round was the icing on the cake.
The Indian connection – Cameroon
In the previous edition of the World Cup, Raymond Domenech played Vikas Dhorasoo as a substitute for France, sending many Indian football fans into wild raptures at the sight of a player of Indian origin on football’s biggest stage. South Africa did not disappoint the Indian fans as well. Cameroon, having already been ousted out of contention for the next round, decided to field some of their fringe players, and a Bong started for the Indomitable Lions, eliciting excitement among the partisans of Sandesh and khatti rolls. Sweet shops are now trying to contact Cameroon’s resident Bengali, in the hopes of establishing the popularity of Kolkata’s famous delicacies in Africa. Since the Cameroon players will be cooling their heels after today, this could be the perfect time to try rasogullas, which Bengali sweet shops can market as miniature, edible and yummy replicas of the Jabulani ball.
Bonus – Japan evades the World Cup blues
Out of the thirty two teams participating in the tournament, only three of these have blue colored home jerseys – France, Italy and Japan. After France and Italy were chucked out in the group stages, one would expect Japan to follow the trend later in the day. Instead, the Asians put up a near flawless performance against Denmark, becoming an exception to the pattern of results. The reason for this deviation can be attributed to Taguchi’s quality control process, which ensures zero defects in Honda’s end products. Like their country’s automobiles, the Samurai Blue delivered a smooth, slick and attractive attacking display on the field.