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Nic Ladds 23rd Jun 2010 - 16:37

The Azzurri, a sure-i?

There were rumblings that the aging Italian side would not produce the flair for which they have become renowned on the path to this South African World Cup final.

Well, it's fair to say that for the defending world cup champions; this has been a pretty poor start to the campaign.

After registering only one-point draws against Paraguay at Green Port Stadium and more surprisingly New Zealand on Sunday, Thursday's clash against Slovakia has to be - mentally at least - all or nothing.

The aging Azzurri (8/15, 90 minutes) are renowned for their slow start to business but unless the pace is picked up against the 'Little-Big country', the Blues could be in for a shock.

Relative minnows on the world stage Slovakia (5/1, 90 minutes) have actually performed worse than expected, and worse than Italy!

The general pre-tournament consensus was Italy would obviously win Group F with Paraguay second, but following a strong run-up to the start of the tournament Slovakia were put forward by a minority for a second place spot ahead of the South Americans.

They've since gone on to simply disappoint and have only managed to pick up a solitary point from two matches.

A historic 50th minute goal from Robert Vittek (9/1 to strike the first goal ) against New Zealand was the country's first-ever at the World Cup finals as an independent nation and until an All White 90th minute equaliser from Winston Reid, Slovakia looked on the up with a higher quality performance than that of the opposition.

Tails were then down against Paraguay, with Marek Hamsik having a quiet game for Slovakia. Paraguay came out and controlled, dominated, and won the match netting two without reply.

Capable of more, 22 year old Hamsik (14/1 for first goal scorer) accumulated 12 goals for Napoli last season and could be one to watch here, though the Azzurri will also be aware of his ability.

The Slovaks may fight tooth and nail for this one. Three points and they could still achieve an almost unbelievable second position in Group F.

Italy's two tournament goals have come from Daniele De Rossi's equaliser against Paraguay (6/1 to strike at any point against Slovakia) and a Vincenzo Iaquinta penalty, which drew the Blues level with New Zealand. (Iaquinta is 11/2 to strike the last goal once again)

Although a draw may be enough for Marcello Lippi's squad to progress, it would be better for the Italians to completely ignore the result of the Paraguay / New Zealand match and simply go all out.

If Italy are able to increase the tempo with the Slovaks are already resigned to defeat, there could be any number of goals in this clash but with the three 1-1 draws from a possible four Group F matches, it's more likely to be a gridlocked Italian defence with occasional bursts. (Italy 1-1 Slovakia correct score: 13/2)

The only side to mark up a victory in Group F Paraguay look likely to win against New Zealand. Three points would bring their tally to seven guaranteeing first place in the group.

Italy are currently alongside New Zealand on two points and would go second in the table with five points in total. Italy and Paraguay would then progress.

If Slovakia did beat Italy they would leapfrog New Zealand and Italy in Group F and go second in the table with four points.

If Italy were to lose to Slovakia, they don't deserve to be at the World Cup.

Low scoring tie with Italy 2-1 victors (15/2) and that's if Slovakia are lucky.

Draw HT/Italy FT: 14/5

Marek Hamsik to score at any point: 11/2

Daniele De Rossi to score at any point: 6/1



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