Few would have put money on Group F looking the way it does at this stage of the tournament, with reigning world champions Italy sharing second place with New Zealand, and Paraguay leading the pack. Two games in though, that is the way things stand and with just three points separating top from bottom, it is anybody's guess who will claim the prized places in the last 16.
It feels like Marcello Lippi has spent most of this tournament dismissing talk of a crisis in the Italian camp. "I don't want to talk about the problems of the team, the problems are on the pitch," snapped the Italy coach on Monday. Results, however, have certainly not gone the way the Squadra Azzurra would have envisaged when they arrived in South Africa to defend their title. Two draws have left them in an uncertain position, but Lippi insists his side have the talent to turn things around. If ever there was time for Italy to step up to the mark, it is now. Only a win will guarantee them a place among the big boys when the Round of 16 gets under way.
It's been a mixed start for Slovakia, who have managed just one point from their opening two games – drawing with New Zealand, before being beaten 2-0 by Paraguay. They now face the reigning world champions knowing that a win will see them through, providing the Kiwis don't continue their surprising run and beat the South Americans in Polokwane. Vladimir Weiss's side managed just one shot on target in their last match and will need to improve upon that statistic if they are to extend their stay in South Africa.
"We're very persistent: we don't give up until we've succeeded," said striker Stanislav Sestak. And they will need to call upon that kind of determination if they are overturn Lippi's side.
It is a simple footballing fact that goals win games, so, with both sides desperate for a win in their pursuit of a place in the last 16, the onus is likely to fall on the frontmen. Vincenzo Iaquinta got off the mark against New Zealand in Nelspruit at the weekend, netting the penalty-kick that spared his sides blushes against a team 74 places below them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Robert Vittek sits alongside his Italian counterpart in the scoring charts, having scored against the same opposition in his side's opening game, when he was also named Budweiser Man of the Match. Statistically, there is little to choose between the two; Vittek pips his rival when it comes to the number of shots each has managed – five to Iaquinta's four – but with the Slovak striker having scored from open play, you could argue he has been the more productive of the two so far. The only figure that will matter in Johannesburg on Thursday, however, will be the one that sits in the points column, and both Iaquinta and Vittek will be out to influence that.
23 – the number of corners Italy have won so far at South Africa 2010.
What they said
"I really don’t know what our problem is. We are making a lot of mistakes, especially at the back. We knew they (Paraguay) would be a difficult side to beat but we couldn't make enough openings," Miroslav Stoch, Slovakia midfielder.
"We haven't done what we're capable of but we can still kick-start our World Cup, anything can still happen. There's a feeling of disappointment, when a team plays with heart and desire, if you don't get a result your disappointment is relative to the amount of effort you put into it," Italy coach, Marcello Lippi.
Voice of the fans
"It will be unbeliveable if small Slovakia send last world champion home those guys have chance to make a biggest surprise of the turnament. I think Italy will be under huge pressure and this is our chance to take all 3 points and qualify to the 1/8finals,” FIFA.com user, matho88.
Italy's opening two FIFA World Cup games have finished 1-1 - the most common result for the Squadra Azzurra in the history of the tournament, with 13 of their games having finished that way. Will they score a third 1-1 draw against the Slovaks? Or can Slovakia claim their first FIFA World Cup win as an independent nation?