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Thursday's WCup lookahead capsules

Capsules for Thursday's matches at the World Cup (FIFA rankings in parentheses):

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Italy (5) vs. Slovakia (34), 10 a.m.
Group F
Johannesburg

Four-time champion Italy comes off two disappointing draws, but a victory will put it into the next round. Slovakia tied New Zealand and lost to Paraguay.

Italy: Playmaking midfielder Andrea Pirlo, a key to the 2006 title, should be back from a calf injury that sidelined him in the first two matches.

Slovakia: Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss lashed out at his nation's media after a 2-0 loss to Paraguay.

Notable Fact: The last defending champion to go out in the first round was France in 2002. Italy would suffer that ignominious fate if it loses to the Slovaks.

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Paraguay (31) vs. New Zealand (78), 10 a.m.
Group F
Polokwane

A victory boosts the South Americans into the next round. New Zealand also moves into the round of 16 with a win.

Paraguay: Paraguay is on the brink of a fourth appearance in the final 16 of a World Cup, but has yet to go beyond that stage.

New Zealand: The Kiwis have far surpassed predictions. In their only previous appearance, in 1982, the All Whites lost their three group matches and were outscored 12-2.

Notable Fact: Thus far, South American teams have 10 victories and two draws, with Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil into the second round. Paraguay is in position to join them.

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Denmark (36) vs. Japan (45), 2:30 p.m.
Group E
Rustenburg

The match will determine who joins the Dutch in the next round. Japan needs at least a draw, while Denmark must win.

Denmark: Striker Nicklas Bendtner hasn't fully recovered from a lingering groin injury, but he scored a goal against Cameroon.

Japan: Japan beat Cameroon 1-0, the team's first World Cup victory on foreign soil. Japan also defended well in its 1-0 loss to the Netherlands.

Notable Fact: The Danes won their group in 2002, their last World Cup, then lost to England in the second round.

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Cameroon (19) vs. Netherlands (4), 2:30 p.m.
Group E
Cape Town

The Dutch were the first team to advance even though neither of their victories have featured endearing soccer. Cameroon was the first team eliminated.

Cameroon: Star striker Samuel Eto'o won the Champions League and Italian league title and cup with Inter Milan, but this will be his final game in the 2010 World Cup.

Netherlands: Left wing Arjen Robben appears fully recovered from the left hamstring injury he sustained in a warm-up match against Hungary on June 5 and could play.

Notable Fact: The Netherlands won all eight qualifying games, outscoring opponents 17-2, and has two wins here without yielding a goal.

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