JOHANNESBURG — Marcello Lippi had been warned this might happen. He had been told time and again by Italian fans and media that his team was too old, that it needed younger, hungrier players.
Take Inter Milan's Mario Balotelli or Davide Santon, they said. Take Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano. Take anyone but that old gang of yours.
But Lippi ignored the warnings and advice, and on Thursday he paid the price.
When referee Howard Webb blew the final whistle at Ellis Park, the scoreboard showed one of the World Cup's all-time remarkable results: Slovakia 3, Italy 2.
A team playing in its first World Cup, made up largely of players unknown internationally, had defeated the defending world champions and knocked them out of the World Cup.
The final line on Italy: No wins, one loss, two ties.
Coming two days after France was sent home with its tail firmly between its legs, it marked the first time in World Cup history that the previous tournament's two finalists were eliminated in the first round.
Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon held his head in his hands in disbelief. Buffon had to watch in frustration from the bench after being sidelined by a back injury in the opener.
On the field, forward Fabio Quagliarella was in tears. Lippi was too angry or embarrassed to stick around. He stalked off the field and into the waiting torture of the postgame news conference.
Once there, he regained his composure and dignity. Unlike his French counterpart, Raymond Domenech, Lippi was ready to accept the blame.
"I take full responsibility," he said. "If the squad went out with fear in their legs and hearts, it means the coach did not prepare the match well tactically or psychologically."
Or perhaps it was simply a result of relying too much on the players who won the World Cup for him in 2006. Nine of the 23 men on the roster were 30 or older.
"We were a disappointment, and everyone saw it," Buffon said.
It was the first time in 36 years, and only the third time in history, that Italy bowed out in the first round.
Slovakian football, meanwhile, has never been better.
"After the birth of my son, it's the second-best day of my life," said coach Vladimir Weiss, a starter on the Czechoslovakia team that routed the U.S. 5-1 in the 1990 World Cup in Italy.