Finally, perhaps even mercifully, this rusted hulk of a team was towed away from the World Cup on Thursday, its battery dead, tires flat, windows smashed after a 3-2 loss to Slovakia, which was playing in its first World Cup.While Slovakia advanced, Italy, the defending champion and a four-time winner, exited after group play for the first time since 1974, having steered far off its intended course.A tie would have sent Italy to the second round, but even that remained elusive for a team that seemed aimless until late in the second half. Slovakia played more urgently, controlling much of the game, receiving two goals from forward Robert Vittek and refusing to be awed by Italy’s reputation.The most extraordinary act that Italy performed in this hapless World Cup was Thursday’s postgame soliloquy by its coach, Marcello Lippi, who retired after the match.
There will be much discussion about what went wrong. Many have criticized Lippi for relying on aging players, like defender Fabio Cannavaro, 36, and midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, 32, who both showed their years against Slovakia. The forwards he favored, like Alberto Gilardino, did not deliver here. And perhaps Lippi was too stubborn and loyal to call earlier on a reserve like Fabio Quagliarella, who played inspired on Thursday in the second half but was unable to lift his team fully from its torpor. Injuries did not help. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, one of the best in the world, left Italy’s opening match and was told he had a herniated disk in his back. The playmaker Andrea Pirlo injured a calf muscle before the World Cup began and did not appear until the 56th minute on Thursday. It did not help, either, that creative players like Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero had retired from the national team.