Italy need a win against Slovakia on Thursday to ensure they stumble into the World Cup second round and all eyes will be on captain Fabio Cannavaro after mistakes in the first two matches led to goals.
The fall from grace of the 2006 World Player of the Year, who inspired the Azzurri to glory four years ago with his superb defending, underlines how inferior Italy look here.
A third error from the 36-year-old in their last match on Thursday could let the Slovaks in and prompt a humiliating early exit for the holders.
“We are a team, it's not right and we don't want to look for who was at fault,” Cannavaro bluntly told reporters.
A lack of height, pace and confidence is hampering Cannavaro, who looks a different player to four years ago.
The wisdom of coach Marcello Lippi taking a man at the very end of his career to South Africa was questioned in Italy but his hero status meant open criticism was rare.
Now Gazzetta dello Sport has run a poll asking if Cannavaro should be dropped and 69.2 per cent of 23,000 voters said yes.
The Juventus defender, who will quit international soccer and enjoy a semi-retirement at Dubai's Al Ahli from July, will, though, stay in the team because reserve centrebacks Leonardo Bonucci and Salvatore Bocchetti are very inexperienced.
Even the midfield has failed to show any invention and the attack has been blunt.
Lippi hopes top creative midfielder Andrea Pirlo can return to the starting lineup after missing the first two games with a calf injury. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is poised to miss out again with a back problem while Lippi could bring in Antonio Di Natale or Giampaolo Pazzini up front with Alberto Gilardino out of form.
‘Not everything has gone well but we don't need to see the glass half empty,” Lippi said. “Our World Cup could start here.”
A draw is enough for sheepish Italy to sneak through with three points if group leaders Paraguay beat New Zealand.
Famous slow starters Italy went through with three draws at the group stage in 1982 before they picked up the pace and went on to claim the trophy by beating Germany in the final.
Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss has been uncomfortable with the media recently, with his playing son saying the team are fed up with unrealistic expectations from fans in their first World Cup.
“There is a lot of criticism from back home, we're doing everything we can. We've not won a game yet but we've still got a chance so we're positive,” Vladimir Weiss Jr told reporters.