View from Italy: Tears and misfortune but also pride and joy

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Our man in Milan Richard Whittle on the reaction to Italy's Euro 2012 final loss against Spain

Twice now in major finals, Italy have had the misfortune of coming up against a team that defines an era in international football – and on both occasions they have lost heavily.

In 1970, it was Brazil in the final of the Mexico World Cup and now in 2012 Spain at Euro 2012.

Much like that unforgettable match in the Aztec stadium where the Pele-inspired Samba boys romped to a 4-1 win, it was one-way traffic in Kiev as the kings from Iberia ran out 4-0 winners.

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However, the Azzurri can still come home with their heads held high – and reaching the final should be seen as triumph enough for a squad that few expected to progress very far at the tournament.

Fans who gathered in Milan’s Piazza Duomo were left bitterly disappointed, with a good percentage making their way home long before the final whistle blew. Those who remained admitted it had been a big let-down – but that the team had done themselves proud overall.

It was just as well that everyone got their partying in on Thursday night after the win over Germany, with the mopeds zipping around and the horns honking deep into the night. Instead of that, as Sunday drifted away the flags were folded up or chucked in the nearest bin as the thought of a black Monday sank in.

The only person seemingly looking on the bright side was Prime Minister Mario Monti, who before the tournament started had suggested that Italian football take a self-imposed break in the light of the ever-developing betting scandal. Now, the technocrat turned political mover was praising coming second in Europe and claiming that football had lifted spirits throughout the country.

However, it was not only a game too far, but an evening that went horribly wrong. Already outplayed, Italy found themselves reduced to 10 men with still around 30 minutes to play. Thiago Motta was carried off moments after coming on and Prandelli had used up all his substitutions, which no doubt helped hasten such a large margin of defeat.

Like Monti, the Italian press were quick to change their opinion, with La Gazzetta dello Sport leading the damning verdict. “It really hurts ...” was their headline above a tearful Mario Balotelli, while Corriere dello Sport asked: “What have you done Prandelli?” They wondered how a team that had overcome England and then second-favourites Germany could fall away so badly when it really mattered.

Turin-based Tuttosport attempted to lift damaged spirits with a “Don’t cry Italy”, but tears were all that were left at the end of the rout in Kiev.

Balotelli breaks down after the game

At least the editorials in all the broadsheets praised the squad for returning the national side to within touching distance of the summit and finally wiping away the painful memory of World Cup 2010 in South Africa, when Marcello Lippi’s defending champions exited at the group stages.

Questions will be raised over whether Prandelli will walk away ahead of the upcoming qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, but he moved to quell such talk in the post-game conference by maintaining that the “project” would move forward.

Throughout the tournament, Prandelli had reacted well to changing events – although in the final, knowing that there were tiring limbs and injuries being carried by the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini (who only lasted 20 minutes), a few fresh legs in a packed midfield would not have gone amiss.

Then again, that would have gone against the whole ethos of the Prandelli reign – and certainly at these finals – where Italy had played a more adventurous style than any of its predecessors.

Prandelli’s rallying call has been “Italy with a smile” and even though this campaign ended in tears, the future does look a lot brighter for next generation of Azzurri.