Group F is extremely tight, with all teams still capable of qualification and elimination.
Even Paraguay have cause for concern – should Paraguay lose to New Zealand (by any score) and Italy overcome Slovakia (by any score), they would finish 3rd. This is, however, an unlikely outcome. The trident of Valdez, Santa Cruz and Barrios will remain a terrifying sight for the Kiwis but Paraguay’s greatest asset is their excellent defence. Equal to Italy and far too good for Slovakia, they are high in confidence, looking to sail through a tricky group as winners.
New Zealand will have a big say on the night. Able to stifle opponents and score when least expected, they possess one of the form players of this World Cup, Ryan Nelsen, in defence. Having come so close to an unprecedented appearance in the second round, New Zealand will be aware that they need a win to both qualify and climb above Paraguay, with a draw likely to be worth nothing more than an unbeaten record in elimination.
Both will attack and both are likely to score, with the probable outcome a draw.
In the other match, Italy will need to summon a win against an unfancied but explosive opponent but the omens do not look good for Marcelo Lippi’s World Champions: since beating USA 3-1 in the Confederations Cup last year, Italy have played 4 competitive games in International tournaments without winning. Their mentality seems to be very negative and they are in desperate need of inspiration if they are to avoid the same fate as France. Di Natale should slot back into the attacking formation as Lippi considers dropping the under-impressive Gilardino. In bad news, Andrea Pirlo is only fit enough to make the bench, dashing hopes that he could exert his usual influence from the start.
Slovakia might have expected to do better than they have. Napoli winger Marek Hamsik in particular would like to show the country he plies his trade in just how dangerous he can be. As such, Slovakia may view this game as an exercise in all-out attack, with a draw or loss worth nothing to them. Even if they adopt a measure of playing for pride, they can still be dangerous on the counter. Weiss has looked extremely comfortable charging forward and Vittek has been unlucky not to see his fine strike against New Zealand seal the points for Slovakia in their opening game.
A desperate battle should see a narrow Italian victory. Whether that means top spot or second is irrelevant to a team desperate to disprove their many doubters.