There is a fine line between elation and frustration in the world's favourite sport, as graphically illustrated by a turbulent second Sunday at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Five-time winners Brazil were consumed by joy after sealing their berth in the Round of 16, but holders Italy again dropped points and are in real danger of missing out on the knockout stages.
A Seleção striker Luis Fabiano emerged as the match-winner at Soccer City in Johannesburg. The two-goal marksman was at his most ruthless as he set coach Dunga's side on the way to a 3-1 Group G victory over Côte d’Ivoire. After claiming the adidas Golden Shoe as top scorer at the FIFA Confederations Cup a year ago, the Sevilla sharp-shooter reaffirmed his apparent love affair with South Africa. Elano added the third on an encouraging evening for the South Americans, Didier Drogba pulling one back as the Africans staged a late rally. The only fly in the ointment for the Brazilians was Kaka's dismissal for a second yellow card in the heated closing stages.
There were more flies than ointment earlier in the day for Marcello Lippi's holders, held to a 1-1 draw by minnows New Zealand in Nelspruit, proving once again that heroics in the past count for precious little in the present. The Group F stalemate rates as the Italians' worst FIFA World Cup result since a 1-0 defeat by Korea DPR fully 44 years ago. La Nazionale's blushes were spared by Vincenzo Iaquinta, who levelled from the spot after Shane Smeltz had opened the scoring. Incredibly, Italy still have not won in 2010.
Brazil were not the only South Americans celebrating as Paraguay gave an exemplary display of how to make the most of your chances and win. In a subdued encounter in Mangaung/Bloemfontein, Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros clinically put away La Albirroja’s best openings to earn a fully merited 2-0 win over Slovakia and place one foot firmly in the Round of 16.
Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay
Italy 1-1 New Zealand
Brazil 3-1 Côte d’Ivoire
Goal of the day
Slovakia 0-1 Paraguay, Enrique Vera, 27 minutes: Paraguay's opener goes down as one of the sweetest moves of the tournament to date. Lucas Barrios sped clear of two opponents, nutmegging one for good measure, before delivering a killer ball for the onrushing Enrique Vera. The Liga de Quito schemer curled a beauty into the corner of the net with the outside of his boot, not only setting Paraguay on their way to victory, but also rattling up the 50th goal of the first FIFA World Cup on African soil.
One to remember
Andy Barron came on for the last two minutes of stoppage time – and carved himself a place in New Zealand footballing history. The 29-year-old Team Wellington midfielder works full-time in a bank, and the water-cooler chat for some time to come is sure to be all about his exploits for the All Whites in South Africa. Barron helped his team run down the clock to secure only the second FIFA World Cup finals point in their history and ensure they remain undefeated at the tournament.
Quote of the day
"I think our entire country, which numbers four million inhabitants, came to a stop to watch our performance. It's an incredible result for football in New Zealand. It's historic and greater than anything else we've ever achieved when you consider the standing of our opponents," Ricki Herbert, New Zealand coach.
Stat of the day
17 - Italy skipper Fabio Cannavaro, FIFA World Player of the Year in 2006, has now featured in 17 games at the finals, and has drawn level in the nation's all-time ranking with goalkeeping legend Dino Zoff. The only players ahead of the pair are Gaetano Scirea and Antonio Cabrini (both 18) and Paolo Maldini (23). However, even if the holders battle their way to the Final, the 36-year-old Cannavaro can no longer dislodge Maldini from top spot.
Have your say
Can Italy raise their game in South Africa? Do you now regard Brazil as favourites for the Trophy? And do you think New Zealand can reach the next stage?