Posted by ESPN Stats & Information
Italy versus Slovakia, Thursday
Ellis Park Stadium -- Johannesburg
• For the Italians, it's simple: win and they're in. Slovakia needs to beat Italy and get help. The incentive is to win the group and avoid the Dutch in the round of 16.
• 1982 Italia redux: In 1982, Italy tied its first two group games (and even tied the third) and went on to win the World Cup.
• Italy's lack of firepower: Italy has just five goals in its last seven matches, and only one forward has found the target in open play, Fabio Quagliarella in a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in a pre-World Cup friendly.
• The last time Italy didn't advance from the first round was 1974. The last time the reigning World Cup champion failed to advance from the first round was France in 2002.
• Some of the Slovakian players' moods were lifted thanks to Italy's shock 1-1 draw with New Zealand, which handed Slovakia a chance to progress if it can beat Italy and New Zealand gets no more than a point against Paraguay. "After the game we all had our heads down because we thought we had no chance to get to the next round, but the draw made a big difference and we're thinking positively," said 20-year-old Vladimir Weiss. "We've still got a chance."
• Italy leads series 10-8-9, but teams have played just once since the breakup of Czechoslovakia.
What to look for
• Andrea Pirlo, Italy's playmaker, missed the first two games with a calf injury but is expected to return against Slovakia.
• Gigi Buffon out: Italy's goalkeeper is expected to miss his second straight game with a back injury.
• Barring injury, this will be Fabio Cannavaro's 18th World Cup match for Italy, tying Antonio Cabrini and Gaetano Scirea for second-most in team history, behind only Paolo Maldini (23, 1990-2002). Cabrini and Scirea played in the 1978, 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
From the research room
• After just two matches, Italy has conceded as many goals as it did in the whole of the 2006 World Cup. This may lead people to think the Azzurri's defense is struggling. On the contrary, Marcello Lippi's men have allowed their opponents just two shots on target, though both found the back of the net. Italy's goalkeepers have yet to make a save.
• The difference in FIFA ranking between New Zealand (No. 78) and Italy (No. 5) was the largest ever by an underdog that gained a win or draw in a World Cup match. (The FIFA rankings were introduced in 1992.)
• Italy hasn't allowed more than two goals in a World Cup match since its 4-1 loss in the 1970 final against Brazil. Italy's streak of 53 matches without allowing three or more goals is by far the longest in World Cup history.