A tearful Gianluigi Buffon said he was “sorry for all of Italian football” as he led a wave of international retirements after a World Cup play-off defeat by Sweden.
Italy were held to a 0-0 draw in Milan and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Buffon, 39, said: “It’s a shame my last official game coincided with the failure to qualify for the World Cup.
“Blame is shared equally between everyone. There can’t be scapegoats.”
Buffon’s Juventus team-mate Andrea Barzagli and Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi also ended their Italy careers, while Juve defender Giorgio Chiellini is expected to join them. The quartet have won 461 caps between them.
Goalkeeper Buffon made 175 appearances for his country in a 20-year career – lifting the World Cup in 2006 – and believes the future could still be bright for the four-time world champions.
“There is certainly a future for Italian football because we have pride, ability, determination and after bad tumbles, we always find a way to get back on our feet,” he said.
Italy manager Giampiero Ventura – under contract until 2020 – did not speak to national television after the defeat but arrived at a news conference 90 minutes after full-time.
‘I haven’t resigned – yet’
“I have not resigned because I haven’t spoken to the president yet,” Ventura, 69, said.
“I’m sorry for being late, but every player I had the privilege of working with, I wanted to salute individually.
“Resignation? I have to evaluate an infinity of issues. We will meet with the federation and discuss it.”
Barzagli, 36, said it was “painful” to “leave this group of lads”.
He added: “I don’t know what we missed. All I know is we’re out of the World Cup. It’s a unique disappointment.
“The era of four or five veterans comes to a close, the one of the hungry young players coming through begins and that’s how it should be.”
‘Send the strikers on!’
There was a bizarre moment late in the game when De Rossi was asked to warm up but pointed instead at Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne, a player Ventura refused to call upon despite pressure from Italian media and supporters.
“I just said we were near the end and had to win, so send the strikers to warm up!” said De Rossi. “I pointed to Insigne too.
“I just thought perhaps it was better that Insigne come on instead.”
Ultimately, De Rossi, 34, was not used either as Italy failed in their search for the goal that would have taken the tie to extra time.
‘Apocalypse’ – reaction in Italy
Italy’s leading sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport said the result brought the arrival of the “apocalypse”.
The article said: “We will not be with you and you will not be with us. A love so great must be reserved for other things. Italy will not participate at the World Cup.
“It is time to start thinking about what else we can do in June: concerts, cinema, village festivals. Anything but watching Sweden play at the World Cup – that would be too painful.”