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Italy's Simone Pepe, right, reacts as Slovakian players celebrate Robert Vittek's first goal at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Thursday. ((Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press))

Robert Vittek scored twice as Slovakia devastated Italy 3-2 on Thursday in South Africa, eliminating the defending FIFA World Cup champion.

Vittek's goal in the first half came after a giveaway by Italy's Daniele de Rossi. Vittek took a pass and drove a low shot past the outstretched hands of a diving Federico Marchetti. His second goal came in the 73rd minute after Italy couldn't clear a corner kick.

Antonio Di Natale had an empty net to get Italy within a goal eight minutes later, but Slovakia's Kamil Kopunek replied in the 89th by lofting the ball over Marchetti.

Slovakia's next match

Slovakia will next face a Group E opponent to be determined later Thursday.

The round of 16 match will take place Monday at Durban Stadium (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 9:30 a.m. ET).

It seemed Italy was done for, but sub Fabio Quagliarella gave the Azzurri hope by scoring in injury time.

Midfielder Simone Pepe then had a clear shot in the box off a corner kick in the dying seconds, but shot wide.

With Paraguay and New Zealand playing to a scoreless draw on Thursday, Italy (0-1-2) would have been able to advance with a draw.

Instead, Italy is out in the first round at the World Cup for the first time since 1974. The soccer-mad country will undoubtedly enter a period of mourning and hand-wringing over the exit.

"I take full responsibility," coach Marcello Lippi said. "If the squad went out with fear in their legs and hearts it means the coach didn't prepare the match well tactically or psychologically."

Slovakia (1-1-1) entered the day fourth in the group but advances in second place to the knockout stages for the first time ever. Czechoslovakia reached the quarter-finals in 1990 and the final in 1962.

"It's fantastic," said Jozef Adamec, who was a member of the Czechoslovak team that reached the final in 1962 in Chile. "A sensational result at the World Cup for the players. Their victory over Italy made me so happy."

Vittek's first goal came in the 25th minute, as Italy conceded the first goal in each of its three games.

Zdeno Strba then drilled a shot that narrowly missed the target for Slovakia. Strba would later in the half need attention after getting bloodied by an errant cleat.

Midfielder Andrea Pirlo came on in the 56th minute for his first action since injuring his left calf in a friendly against Mexico three weeks ago. The crafty playmaker gave Italy's sagging attack a much-needed boost.

Prandelli succeeds Lippi

Quagliarella was denied twice before his late strike. He launched a shot in the 65th minute that beat keeper Jan Mucha, but defender Martin Skrtel rescued it for Slovakia at the goal line.

Miroslav Stoch had a strong chance to make it a two-goal cushion a few minutes later, but his shot spun wide right.

With the score 2-1 Slovakia, Quagliarella put the ball in the net, but was ruled offside.

It was Italy's first loss at the World Cup since allowing a golden goal to South Korea in the second round in 2002. And it marked the end of an era for Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gennaro Gattuso, who already announced their retirement from the national team after the tournament.

Lippi, who led Italy to the 2006 championship, is also moving on, with Cesare Prandelli already chosen as his successor.

"We were a disappointment and everyone saw it," said goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whose World Cup return lasted just one half of the opening match due to injury.

"The difference between 2006 and 2010 is that there are no longer enough players like [Francesco] Totti and Alessandro [Del Piero]. He [Prandelli] will have to start a new cycle and I hope he's got his ideas in order, because the current situation of Italian football isn't great."

Italy's squad featured nine players 30 or over and Prandelli will be charged with a major overhaul. Italy hasn't won since beating Sweden 1-0 in a friendly in November, drawing five times and losing twice.

For the first time ever the finalists of the previous World Cup are out in the first round, with Italy following France's exit by two days.