JOHANNESBURG: Humiliated defending champions Italy joined former winners France on the World Cup scrapheap on Thursday and Japan ensured Asia has two qualifiers for the last 16.
This shock-riddled World Cup delivered another twist when four-time world champions Italy slumped 3-2 to a Slovakia side that had failed to impress during their first two group games in South Africa.
Robert Vittek scored twice for the Slovaks as they stunned Italy at Ellis Park and despite a frantic finish the Italians failed to clear the first round hurdle for the first time in 36 years, finishing bottom of Group F to complete their shame.
France, sent packing this week after finishing bottom in Group A, were the last defending champions to crash out in the first round, in 2002.
"After the birth of my son (also called Vladimir) this is the second best day of my life," said Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss, whose team finished as group runners-up to Paraguay, who put New Zealand out with a goalless draw.
Slovakia`s reward will be a last 16 clash with the Netherlands, who secured top spot in Group E by beating Cameroon 2-1.
Japan reached the knockout stage for only the second time in their history, and first on foreign soil, after an impressive 3-1 win against Denmark and will play surprise package Paraguay in Pretoria on Tuesday for a place in the quarter-finals.
Two goals from free-kicks fired the Japanese to victory. Keisuke Honda`s superb left-footed effort sailed into the net from 30 yards and Yasuhito Endo repeated the trick with half an hour gone in Rustenburg.
Veteran striker Jon Dahl Tomasson pulled a goal back for Denmark when he knocked in the rebound from his saved penalty, but Shinji Okazaki put the result beyond doubt in the final minutes.
Man-of-the-match Honda said he believed his side had a realistic chance of reaching the last eight for the first time.
"I expected to be really jubilant but I`m not as jubilant as I thought I would be because I don`t think we are finished here. I believe we can go further in this competition," said the CSKA Moscow star.
In Cape Town, the Netherlands were assured of qualification before they kicked-off but ensured they finished top of the group with a maximum nine points when they saw off a spirited performance from the already-eliminated Cameroon.
Robin Van Persie threaded the ball through Cameroon `keeper Hamidou Souleymanou`s legs after 36 minutes, but Cameroon equalised when Samuel Eto`o scored a 65th minute penalty.
Substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar gave Holland the three points when he netted the rebound after Arjen Robben`s curled shot hit the post in Cape Town.
Cameroon`s French coach Paul Le Guen revealed he would step down after a desperately disappointing World Cup campaign of three consecutive defeats.
But the real drama of the day came in Johannesburg where Vittek scored twice to put the Slovaks in control and Kamil Kopunek added a late third either side of Italian goals from Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella strikes.
Italy coach Marcello Lippi said he took "full responsibility" for the disastrous exit, saying his team had played with "terror in their legs, their heads and their hearts".
Lippi, the mastermind of the victory in Berlin four years ago, will leave his job.
In contrast, Weiss shed tears of joy as he walked across the pitch to salute Slovak supporters, knowing he had silenced the critics who slammed his tactics when his team were held by New Zealand and lost to Paraguay earlier in the tournament.
"I`m sorry for Italy but it was a fantastic day for us because before the match we were under a bit of pressure. I`m very proud of my team, everyone played to a high level," he said.
New Zealand meanwhile bowed out without losing a game after a woeful goalless stalemates against Paraguay in Polokwane made it three draws out of three for the Kiwis.
BDST: 1155hrs, June 25, 2010