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Simone Pepe can't save Italy from elimination

Italy's Simone Pepe reacts after losing its Group

Italy's Simone Pepe reacts after losing its Group F match against Slovakia, 3-2. (June 24, 2010) Credit: AP

 Simone Pepe has plenty to think about.

The Italian midfielder -- and one of the few young players on the Azzurri -- missed a chance to boot his team into the Round of 16 in the final minute of a 3-2 loss to Slovakia. Instead, his failed volley meant Italy exits the World Cup immediately after the group stage for the first time since 1974.

When Italy earned a throw-in deep in Slovakia's territory as the clock ticked toward the 95th minute, everyone in the stadium knew it would be the last play of the game. A long throw skipped off the head of a Slovakia defender and toward the back post. Pepe was there waiting, but he swung and missed. Now, the ball wasn't exactly sitting up on a tee for him, but he probably could've gotten a better boot on it. The ball wobbled out of bounds and Slovakia could rejoice.

If Italy had tied, it would have advanced to the Round of 16 by virtue of its "goals scored" tiebreaker over New Zealand, as both teams would have finished 0-0-3. New Zealand, which tied Paraguay 0-0 in its final match, went three games without a loss. That has to be considered a success for the Kiwis.

For Italy, it's three games without a win and devastating.

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