Italy try to join other Europeans in last 16
Johannesburg: Holders Italy bid to join the other under-performing European powers in the second round of the World Cup on Thursday after England and Germany scraped through in their final group games.
Terrible early form has marked the European campaign in South Africa, where the Latin Americans are dominant after the first round and only Ghana looks like continuing to fly the African flag in the first tournament on their continent.
Italy, whose ageing team are a shadow of the 2006 winners, will try to emulate England, who finally found some form on Wednesday to beat tiny Slovenia 1-0.
Italy need to beat Slovakia -- who are bottom of Group F -- to be sure of getting into the knockout stage, but even a draw would do as long as group leaders Paraguay beat lowly New Zealand.
In Thursday`s other games Netherlands, one European team that has looked solid if not inspired, are already through and will play a meaningless tie against Cameroon who are out.
Japan and Denmark play in the other match on Thursday, where the Danes must win and Japan, one of the most improved teams here, need only a draw.
Germany, who could have suffered a humiliating first round elimination, went through after beating Ghana 1-0 in a tight match where the Black Stars confirmed their status as the best African team.
The Ghanaians finished second in Group D because Australia beat Serbia.
England raised their game from their two dismal previous draws and were always in control, although still below their best in beating Slovenia by one Jermain Defoe goal in Group C.
Slovenia looked as if they would be the second qualifying team until the final minutes of the other Group C match when the United States agonisingly robbed them of their place.
Landon Donovan`s dramatic last gasp goal eliminated Algeria, another of the record six African teams who started the tournament, and left the United States top of the group above England.
Donovan was reduced to tears in the post-match news conference and former President Bill Clinton visited the team in the changing room, saying they had shown the American spirit.
France, the black sheep of the World Cup after a players` revolt and elimination at the bottom of group A, slunk away with their tails between their legs after a scandal that shocked the nation.
President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a wholesale shake-up of French soccer after a government meeting on the fiasco.
England are said to have been torn by almost as much internal dissent as the French but won on Wednesday when coach Fabio Capello responded to a wave of criticism and brought in striker Defoe to replace the ineffective Emile Heskey amongst several other changes.
England will play Germany in the second round in Bloemfontein. The United States will play Ghana.
The relief among England fans and Capello was palpable after Wednesday`s game, when they looked a different team.
"I`ve again found the team I know. We can go forward against all the teams because the players` minds now are free, without fear, without doubt," Capello said in reference to their nervous previous games.
Despite their shock 1-1 draw with Italy, group minnows New Zealand look sure to go out with Slovakia unless they pull off an unlikely victory against Paraguay, part of the Latin American power-trip at the World Cup.