The worst defence of the World Cup ever? Must be close, real competition between this Italian side and the French one who crumbled at the group stage 8 years ago. At least Italy scored, and France don't get to win anything normally, so we'll give them this.
That is about as good as it gets for Marcello Lippi. He has paid the price for picking too many players who are too old and past their best, like Cannavaro, and too many very average players, like Pepe. Antonio Cassano should have been selected, he has the ability to create something out of nothing and can give the side a spark, but he and Lippi do not get on. Quagliarella and Di Natale should both have got far more game time than they got in the end, the Napoli man in particular made a difference when he came on today, and scored a fantastic goal. It's a shame that some great international careers have ended in the way they did, Fabio Cannavaro has already gone, Zambrotta and Gattuso won't be far behind, but in reality it was a tournament too far.
As for the match itself, it was a fantastic game. It's something of a mystery as to where Slovakia's performance came from, they were incredibly poor for most of the first two games, but today they were exceptional. All 3 goals were very well taken, but more impressive was the way they took the game to Italy. They sensed a weakness and a frailty about the Italians, and went for them. Perhaps if they'd showed that sort of initiative against New Zealand in particular, they could have won the group. Instead, a tough second round match with Holland awaits them.
The other decisive match today was also very enjoyable. Japan had been very defensive in both of their group games, but stunned Denmark with one of the performances of the tournament so far. Keisuke Honda was comfortably man of the match, but the whole side deserve a lot of credit for the way they played. Denmark had no answer, and although you can argue that Thomas Sorensen was at fault for the first free kick, they wouldn't have got anything out of the game regardless. It's interesting how well both the Japanese and South Koreans have done at this World Cup, previously they've only excelled in the tournament they co-hosted, but Asian sides appear to have developed far more than African sides have done. I most certainly wouldn't bet against having a winner from Asia before one from Africa.
On a more general point, what a fantastic World Cup we've had so far. After a slow start when sides were ensuring they didn't start with a defeat, it really has come to life. It's worth looking at that for a second, there were 10 teams who lost their first game and at least 9 (Spain are the 10th) will not qualify. You can understand the defensive tactics in those circumstances, it may not be great to watch, but it is a perfectly reasonable way to begin the tournament.
On paper, the biggest game of the group stage takes place tomorrow, but in reality there's not a lot riding on it. Brazil are already qualified, and barring a goal difference swing of miracle proportions, so are Portugal. In all likelihood Dunga will rest some players, and with Kaka suspended anyway we'll see some of Brazil's 'lesser' lights. There is a chance Portugal could win the group with a win, but because of how open Group H is, whether they really want to or not is impossible to tell. I'm really looking forward to the big game in that group, Spain - Chile. I've been bigging the Chileans up for a while now, and I really hope they can get something out of this game to progress. I think it's too much to hope for a Honduras victory which would send both of these teams through. Goals should be the order of the day, Chile are not going to sit back but Spain will relish a team trying to take them on. I foresee a lot of counter attacking, and hopefully, Chile to scrape through.
Four years ago, Italy beat France to win the World Cup. This time, both did worse than New Zealand. That must be depressing.