Robert Vittek struck either side of the break before Antonio Di Natale's goal gave Italy hope. Kamil Kopunek made the game safe for Slovakia in the 89th minute before a further consolation from Fabio Quagliarella.
The 2006 winners knew that a win would definitely be enough for them to progress to the next round, while a draw may have been enough. Slovakia needed nothing less than a win, and would need to do so by a couple of goals if New Zealand beat Paraguay.
Italy made two changes as expected, bringing in Gennaro Gattuso and Di Natale for Claudio Marchisio and Alberto Gilardino. Slovakia made twice as many changes, with Radoslav Zabavnik, Juraj Kucka, Miroslav Stoch and Erik Jendrisek replacing Kornel Sakata, Jan Kozak, Stanislav Sestak and Vladimir Weiss after the defeat to Paraguay.
Slovakia’s period of pressure came to fruition on 25 minutes when Daniele De Rossi gave the ball away too easily in midfield and the ball was quickly fed to Robert Vittek, who slid a perfect right foot shot low to Marchetti’s right to give the eastern Europeans a surprise lead.
It could so easily have been 2-0 on 35 minutes when Strba unleashed a thunderbolt from over 30 yards which Marchetti had to tip two-handed around the post. After the corner had come to nothing, Italy broke well, but Vincenzo Iaquinta just failed to get on the end of a promising through ball and it was allowed to run harmlessly out of play.
Iaquinta did then connect with a header which could have brought the Azzurri level, but it was deflected just over the bar and the resulting corner was easily dealt with.
The struggles were continuing in the early stages of the second half. The Slovaks continued to look dangerous on the break, with Italy appearing weak at the back whenever attacked and Kucka and Vittek both had half-chances to double the advantage.
In the 65th minute Italy should have been level. Pepe and Pirlo made smart work down the right, and when the ball escaped Mucha, Quagliarella fire in a right foot shot which was superbly blocked by the retreating Skrtel right on the goal line.
Once more Slovakia proved a threat on the break though after that lucky escape, and Stoch cut inside Maggio to send in a shot from 20 yards, but it was always swinging wide of Marchetti’s goal. Giorgio Chiellini then had to be alert to cover the onrushing Hamsik. And after Cannavaro had averted the danger from the first corner, Slovakia struck again.
The second corner was half cleared, but when Hamsik delivered low from the right nobody in blue reacted as quickly as Robert Vittek, who calmly slotted home his second goal at the near post with Chiellini left in his wake and Marchetti slow to cover his near post.
An excellent one-two involving Quagliarella and Iaquinta saw Mucha parry the Napoli man’s shot straight into the path of Antonio Di Natale, who had the easiest of tasks to side-foot home.
The lifeline sparked a momentary melee in the back of the Slovakia net, with Mucha twice striking Quagliarella in the face, though the Italy forward did rather theatrically fall to the floor.
When play eventually restarted there was finally some real urgency in Italy’s play. Di Natale had a shot from 20 yards blocked, before he collected Pepe’s cross to tee up Quagliarella to slot home from 10 yards, but the referee’s assistant’s flag was up. Replays suggested the call was incorrect.
Slovakia then made the game safe after more sloppy defending in the 89th minute. De Rossi failed to track the onrushing Kamil Kopunek from a simple throw-in and the substitute had the easiest of tasks in chipping the advancing Marchetti to confirm Italy’s misery.
The Azzurri struck back again though in the first minute of stoppages, Fabio Quagliarella firing home from 25 yards out of nothing.
But it wasn’t to be enough as the champions were eliminated, Pepe missing a late chance to save his side.