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 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.”
Buffon’s retirement was not the only one on a night of change for Italy.
“I don’t know what we missed, all I know is we’re out of the World Cup, it’s a unique disappointment and leaving this group of lads is painful,” said defender Barzagli.
“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 on 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.”
In the end Roma midfielder 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.
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.”
Iker Casillas, who lifted the World Cup with Spain in 2010 and won 167 international caps, said: “I don’t like seeing you like this. I want to see you as you’ve always been, as what you are for so many – as a legend. I’m proud to have met you and to have faced you many times.”
Who next for Italy?
Gazzetta have outlined four candidates who could replace Ventura to “rebuild from rubble and work for the 2020 Euros”.
Former AC Milan, Juventus and Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is the “most liked” name to take over, having been sacked as Bayern Munich boss earlier this season. He also leads the poll on the Gazzetta website.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, who left the Italy job after Euro 2016, has also been mentioned as he is “a bit tired of England”, while ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, now at Zenit St Petersburg, and Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri have also been touted.