Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro on Friday blamed fear for the reigning champions' ignominious exit from the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ following a shock 3-2 defeat to debutants Slovakia.
The 36-year-old, who has now played his last match for the Azzurri and will move to Al-Ahli in Dubai next season, gave a frank and honest assessment of Italy's disastrous title defence from the team's Casa Azzurri base camp here.
And he said when the hour came, the men became shrinking violets. "The fear is when you play for a team with four stars on it's shirt (designating their four world titles) and you have to win," he said.
"The pressure is there, there was too much fear in playing, I was looking in their (the players) faces and they were too nervous. If you're too nervous you don't manage to be lucid."
The pressure is there, there was too much fear in playing, I was looking in their (the players) faces and they were too nervous.
The other problem, according to the former world player of the year, is a lack of quality in Italy. "We don't have any superstars, there are no (Francesco) Tottis or (Alessandro) Del Pieros, if someone had seen one we would've brought them," he added.
"We need to get used to the fact that right now we're not producing the material like previous generations. Before we had great players who made our history, not just in the national team but also in the clubs. Now we need to produce these players again but of course it's not easy. It's a part of the cycle, now we have good players but not first class ones, before we had great players."
Cannavaro called on clubs to assume their responsibility in the production of new young talent. "The only path is that of youth, if you don't create good young players then you won't have a solid base. That's the future, we need to turn a page. Clubs must realise that it's not just the failure of the national team, it's also the clubs' failure.
"We (Italy) won the Champions League (with Inter Milan) but with few Italians (there were none in the starting XI). But it's not just about youth, it's also about stadiums and how fans behave in the stadiums. We need to draw a line, we need to change."
Looking back at the match against Slovakia, Cannavaro described it as one of his worst experiences in football. "It was for sure one of our worst evenings, we didn't expect to go out in the group stages. We didn't expect to play this way or to get this result. We knew it would be very difficult to win the World Cup but we expected with our experience to go a lot further.
"After the first game (a 1-1 draw with Paraguay) we were confident, we played well but maybe the fact we didn't win the second (another 1-1 draw with New Zealand) conditioned us a lot. Yesterday (Thursday) in the first half there was insecurity, fear and a lack of taking responsibility."
The Neapolitan defended coach Marcello Lippi's squad selection, particularly the decision to leave forwards Luca Toni, Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli behind. "Once again the coach showed his greatness as he took full responsibility, he defended the team and showed he thinks a lot of us.
"When you lose on the pitch it's not just the fault of the coach but of everyone. We went to two European Championships with Toni and Cassano and didn't win them and as for Balotelli he's still very young."
As for his own career, Cannavaro said it was the right time to close this chapter. "I'm going because I believe the time has come to say goodbye. I have had a good career, I've given a lot.
"I've had good moments and bad but that's part of a footballer's career. You accept the plaudits when you win so you must accept the criticism when you lose."