Italy arrived in South Africa with high hopes of defending their title but they have been left licking their wounds after another below-par display, this time against Slovakia, sent them crashing out of the FIFA World Cup™.
Marcello Lippi had earlier claimed responsibility for his side's humiliating departure from the tournament but defender Domenico Criscito, who insists Italy gave everything in a bid to defend their world title, believes the responsibility for today's 3-2 defeat in Johannesburg does not lie with the coach, but with him and his team-mates. Devastated by the result which puts them on the plane home along with 2006 runners-up France, Criscito says they failed to adhere to their coach's instructions. "We share the blame among ourselves, we were never able to do what the coach asked of us," he said. "Today he wanted us to press them and, instead of doing that, we sat back and waited for them."
Lippi's reign as Italy coach ended at Ellis Park with his team beaten by an impressive Slovakia side who have advanced to the last 16 for the first time as an independent nation. Crisicito revealed that self-belief had never been a problem within the squad, but said that in the end the Azzurri simply were not good enough to go through. "Lippi was very disappointed because he really believed in this squad," he said. "So did we. We had plenty of belief. It's normal to ask forgiveness because we weren't able to beat teams weaker than ourselves. We gave everything, though."
A poor first-half performance against an inventive Slovakia side left the Italians trailing 1-0 at the break – and with a mountain to climb in their bid to escape Group F. "We played completely wrong in the first half; the second half was better but it wasn't enough," said Gianluca Zambrotta. "It is a great disappointment because we should have passed through the group stage without any problems."
A deflated Gianlugi Buffon, who played just 46 minutes of the opening clash with Paraguay before injury intervened, accepted that Italy were lacking the creative spark that Slovakia displayed, and deserved to be heading home. "If in three matches – including games against New Zealand and Slovakia – you aren't capable of winning a single one, then you need to go home and ask yourself what didn't work," he said. "I thought we looked good physically but I think that, above all, we lacked ideas in our play. We never proved ourselves up to the same standard as our opponents."
Those thoughts were echoed by Gennaro Gattuso, who paid tribute to the performance of Vladimir Weiss's side at Ellis Park. "Slovakia were well organised on the field," he said. "They made things difficult for us." The Milan midfielder added: "When we play like this we have to accept that it is our responsibility. We should all look at our conscience. We didn't play very well. We just have to live with it." For Italy goalscorer Fabio Quagliarella, finally, who came on at the start of the second half, there was deep regret that his first FIFA World Cup had ended in such bitter disappointment. "We haven't played a good game," he said. "It speaks for itself. It's a great regret. I regret that it was my first World Cup and it has ended like this. It is a bitter disappointment."