Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro is leaving international football with the Azzurri in a state of disgrace after the defending champion's unexpected first-round exit from the World Cup.
Still, the player who raised the title four years ago was holding on to a bit of pride in the wake of the 3-2 loss to Slovakia. "This is a black page in our history, but it can't erase what we achieved in 2006," Cannavaro said on Friday, a day after escorting crying teammate Fabio Quagliarella off the pitch.
"I'm not ashamed to say that I cried last night after 14 years in Azzurro." Having drawn 1-1 its opening two games with Paraguay and New Zealand, it marked the first time Italy had exited the World Cup without winning at least one game. It was also the first time the four-time champion finished last in its group.
"With four stars on your chest, you feel obligated to win. It's only natural to feel pressure but we were too afraid. I saw it in the faces of my teammates," Cannavaro said.
At 36, Cannavaro often appeared a step too slow in this tournament, and was responsible in part for the two goals Italy allowed against Paraguay and New Zealand.
"It's time to go," he said, accepting his critics. "I've had a lot of good games and a lot of bad games _ that's all part of a footballer's career."
Cannavaro also struggled this past season with Juventus, which declined to exercise an option on his contract. The center back will end his club career in the United Arab Emirates, having signed a two-year deal to play for the Dubai-based Al Ahli before the World Cup.
His Italy career is over, though, after a national record 136 appearances, and Cannavaro is handing over the captaincy to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon wore the leader's armband at the 2008 European Championships, which Cannavaro missed due to injury. Cannavaro acknowledged that it would have been easier to retire after winning in 2006.
"But the national team has always represented something different to me. I've never been able to say no," he said. "And my injury at Euro 2008 left a bitter taste in my mouth, so I wanted to continue."
With Cannavaro the oldest of the bunch, nine players in Italy's team were 30 or over.
"It's tough to explain how you can go from being world champion to being eliminated in the first round," Cannavaro said. "Maybe when we won the World Cup we were already a bit too old."