Italy coach Marcello Lippi took full responsibility for his side's FIFA World Cup™ group exit, admitting his side had played with "terror in their heart, head and legs".
Lippi, who had always planned to stand down at the end of the tournament, was shocked his side had fallen at the group stage after a 3-2 defeat to Slovakia which meant the eastern European side reached the last 16 in their FIFA World Cup finals debut. But he blamed only himself.
Lippi, who is set to be succeeded by Cesare Prandelli, said: "I take all responsibility for what happened, because if a team shows up at such an important game with terror in their head, heart and legs and if the team is unable to express its abilities it means the coach didn't train that team as he should have done, psychologically, technically or tactically.
"I would have expected anything except to see a performance like we gave in the first half of the game, not to mention the second half. I am sorry to see it end in such a fashion because. I didn't expect this. I take on all responsibilities for the choices I made and the way I introduced the team to you. I wish the best to my successor, best of luck to him and thank you all for these four years, part of which were fantastic and part of which were not."
Slovakia, whose coach Vladimir Weiss described this as the second-best day of his life after the birth of his son Vladimir junior, led 2-0 with goals from Robert Vittek before Italy hit back through Antonio Di Natale and then had a Fabio Quagliarella effort ruled out for offside. Substitute Kamil Kopunek then made it 3-1 and although Quagliarella pulled one back with a brilliant chip, the Squadra Azzurri were dumped out of the tournament.
Lippi insisted he did not regret the decision to return to the Italy job, having led the side to the world title in 2006. "I came back with enthusiasm, the Italian press knows full well why I came back, I never regretted coming back to the national team," he said. "I firmly believed we would perform better than we did and I am deeply sorry."
The former Juventus coach now plans to take a break from football, just as he did after the triumph in 2006, and was adamant there was no fault attached to his players, whom he claimed were of high quality.
"I've always said I have no intention to get back into coaching. I will take a few months out and then we will have to see," he said. "I have said it all along, I really firmly believe the men I chose would have been able to deliver something different, but I have not been capable of motivating the men as I should have done, speaking to them inside and keeping our standards high."
By contrast Slovakia coach Weiss was an extremely happy man. "First of all I may say it's so unbelievable, it was a fantastic day for us," he said. "We had good preparation for the match with the staff and the players. After the birth of my son, it's the second-best day of my life. I want to say thanks to the people of Slovakia, who followed us to South Africa. I am very proud of my team, they played a very high level for 80 minutes.
"There was big pressure in the last 10 minutes but we played a fantastic game and the better team won. Today we are happy people and this is a celebration. I believe today everyone is celebrating in the streets. I want to tell my wife that I love her."