Captain Fabio Cannavaro is confident "the best is yet to come" from traditional FIFA World Cup™ slow starters Italy.

The Azzurri need a victory over Slovakia at Ellis Park this afternoon to ensure a place in the last 16 after draws in their opening games against Paraguay and New Zealand. Cannavaro, who will retire from international football after the tournament to take up a lucrative contract in the United Arab Emirates, is determined this is not where his FIFA World Cup journey will end.

He said: "We have worked hard for two years. It would be a pity to return home after this game, more so considering that our best is yet to come. I just want my team to go through and to clinch our first win because that would change everything for us."

The pressure is all on the reigning world champions against tournament debutants Slovakia, but Cannavaro is adamant that will not manifest itself as fear in the Azzurri ranks. "The responsibility is always there because this is a World Cup. But we have no fear because that only drives you to make mistakes. In a World Cup no-one grants you a favour and we have to improve with respect to our past performances," he said.

Italy had hoped to recover midfielder Andrea Pirlo for the crucial clash but the AC Milan star, who has so far been ruled out of the tournament with a calf injury, will not start for the Azzurri. One player very familiar to the Italians will be Slovakia playmaker Marek Hamsik, who has been impressive this season in Serie A with Napoli but less so in his country's two FIFA World Cup finals matches to date.

Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss said: "Hamsik has never let me down - that is why he is the captain of the Slovakia squad and he is the best Slovak footballer at the moment. He can have a weaker performance and in the first two matches he didn't match his expectations and my expectations of him. He is hoping that (today) he can shine, just like you know he shines in the Italian league."

Slovakia drew their opening game with New Zealand and a 2-0 defeat to Paraguay in their last match means nothing short of victory will do, and Weiss has urged his team to be bold. He said: "We still have a hope to get through the group stage and we will do everything for it. But we are playing against the holders of the title, so it will be a difficult match. We want to be bold but rational because our opponents are the reigning champions."