The 2010 World Cup was a disaster for Italy, and while they actually won a game in the tournament this year, they were really only a point better than four years ago. All that progress made during the intervening years was gone in two hours on Tuesday against Uruguay.
Just two hours to lose a game, to lose a coach, to lose the president of the Italian football federation. The whole program, all the confidence, destroyed.
Italy lost against Costa Rica, probably their worst World Cup loss since the 1966 defeat to North Korea, and they lost to Uruguay, despite the biting and the red card. The Azzurri were decidedly poor throughout the group stage.
Coach Cesare Prandelli put together a talented team, but they were too conservative, and they lacked the killer instinct. Prandelli was responsible for those bashful tactics, but he built up the team from nothing, the ignominy of the 2010 World Cup still burning like a scarlet letter, and he deserved a better fate, a better reward.
Italy are not just a team in crisis; reports via Football Italia suggest that Mario Balotelli was ostracized by teammates. They are a nation in crisis. The economy is still struggling, the youth are out of work, and problems with immigration and racism exist. There's contempt for the country from its own citizens. The national anthem was jeered and booed during the Coppa Italia final, and Prandelli is aware of these fractures in the Italian identity.
Prandelli told reporters (h/t Football Italia):
We are one of the few national teams to leave for a tournament without the support of our fans. We always have to win them over, game by game. When we left, we were almost ashamed, as there were insults and jeers...We no longer have a sense of patriotism.
No Italian player helped the cause. No one really stood out. Of course there was the dummy and a few fine (final?) saves from Gianluigi Buffon. It was a last hurrah without much oomph. And now, they're left picking up the pieces of the country's shattered soul.
Here is a review of each player's performances during another shabby World Cup. (Alberto Aquilani and Mattia Perin did not feature in the tournament at all and were therefore not included.)