Defending World Cup champions Italy were knocked-out of the World Cup after losing their final group stage game to Slovakia. The Netherlands, meanwhile, picked up another victory to win their group.
Italy will not have the chance to defend their title
Facing long odds, Slovakia has come from the bottom of Group F to knock off defending World Cup champs Italy 3-2 and finish second in the group. That qualifies them for the Round of 16, along with group winners Paraguay.
Slovakia took the lead in the first half as Robert Vittek split two defenders on a run before receiving a pass and kicking the ball past Italian keeper Federico Marchetti for the goal.
Vittek doubled his team's lead in the 75th minute. The forward took a cross after a corner and slipped the ball into a narrow gap between Marchetti and the post.
Vittek helped Slovakia deliver one of the biggest upsets of the tournament
The late 2-0 lead looked like it would be enough for Slovakia to pull off the upset and secure their spot in the knock-out round. But in the 81st minute, Italy's offense finally woke up.
The Italians cut Slovakia's lead in half on a wonderfully executed play after Vincenzo Iaquinta's shot was deflected by Slovakian keeper Jan Mucha. But Italy's Antonio Di Natale, coming in from the opposite side, was in perfect position to take the rebound and put away the easy goal.
As time ticked away, Slovakia sought to put the game to bed in the 89th minute as Kamil Kopunek gave the team its third goal.
But the Italians refused to give up, as Fabio Quagliarella chipped a final goal over Mucha in injury time. In the end, though, it took Italy too long to get their offense in gear, and Slovakia kept adding goals to keep a comeback just out of reach.
In Group F's other match, Paraguay tied New Zealand 0-0 to lock up their spot in the final 16.
Free-kicking to the next round
Coming into the final matches of Group E on Thursday night, the Netherlands had already secured their spot in the Round of 16 at the World Cup and Cameroon had already been eliminated. That meant it came down to a direct duel between the group's remaining teams, Japan and Denmark, for the final spot. Japan used perfectly executed spot kicks to beat the Danes 3-1.
Japan stayed afloat in a sink-or-swim game
Keisuke Honda put Japan ahead early on with a picture-perfect free kick from 30 meters that curled around the wall in the 17th minute. Danish keeper Thomas Sorensen initially guessed wrong on the kick and couldn't get back to the right side of the goal in time to stop the ball.
Japan switched players for their next free-kick thirteen minutes later, but the result was just as good. Yasuhito Endo punted another one around the wall and in to give Japan the early 2-0 lead.
While a draw would have been enough for the Japanese, Denmark needed a win and waited too long to take one back from Japan. In the 81st minute, Denmark's Jon Dahl Tomasson lined up to take a penalty after a foul from Makoto Hasebe. Japan's keeper Eiji Kawashima deflected the shot but allowed Tomasson to fire away on the rebound.
Shinkji Okazaki put the game to bed in the 89th minute as Honda set him up for the game's final goal.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands took on Cameroon in what was purely a formality. The Netherlands were on the board first after a goal from Robin van Persie in the 36th minute. Cameroon evened the score on a penalty kick from Samuel Eto'o in the 65th minute.
But the Netherlands, playing for a perfect sheet in group play, managed to take the lead near the end. Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben, coming off the bench, saw his shot ricochet off the post, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was there to put away the deflection to give the Netherlands a 2-1 win.
In the Round of 16, the Netherlands will face Slovakia on Monday, while Japan takes on Paraguay on Tuesday.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Andreas Illmer