Italian football reeling after European exits

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The Independent Football

Francesco Totti walked off the field at the Stadio Olimpico with his jersey tugged over his head, contemplating AS Roma's elimination from the Champions League after a penalty shoot-out loss to Arsenal.

There was no dancing down the sideline for Jose Mourinho as his Inter Milan club was ousted by Manchester United on Wednesday.

A night earlier, Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero hung his head after losing to Chelsea.

Totti was likely the most upset of all. Mourinho and Del Piero have won the Champions League before, but the longtime AS Roma captain was dreaming of taking his first title in this season's final, which is slated for his hometown — Rome.

"It would have been better to lose 3-0, this feels like getting knifed," Totti said. "When am I going to get another chance like this?"

At least Totti was not alone.

All three Italian clubs were eliminated by English opposition, marking the first time in seven years that none of the country's clubs has reached the quarterfinals.

Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport headline read, "Maledizione!" - "It's a curse!"

Two weeks ago, AC Milan and Sampdoria were eliminated from the Uefa Cup.

"The biggest reason for this crisis is economics," Milan chairman Adriano Galliani said. "English clubs, thanks most of all to their stadiums, have much higher revenue than our clubs. England and Spain are far superior in this area, and it's a serious problem."

Italy has launched a bid to host the 2016 European Championship, which would force the country to rebuild its stadiums.

The last remaining Italian team in Europe this season is unsung Udinese, who host Zenit St. Petersburg in a first-leg Uefa Cup match tonight.

Roma's exit was the most dramatic, with Max Tonetto - the Giallorossi's eighth man to step up to the spot in the shootout - sending his penalty high to give Arsenal the win.

"I'm sorry for all these fans that supported us nonstop for two hours," Tonetto said. "My teammates tried to console me, but it hasn't helped much."

Arsenal won the shootout 7-6 after Brazil defender Juan's goal in the ninth minute for Roma left the clubs tied 1-1 on aggregate through regulation and extra time.

Injury-hit Roma thought it earned a penalty when Arsenal defender Gael Clichy tugged down Marco Motta from behind inside the area in the 45th, but Spanish referee Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez made no call.

Inter were also unlucky, with strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano both denied by the goalframe. United got goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic following a scoreless first leg.

"Unfortunately, Manchester scored in the key points of the game, at the beginning of the first and second halves," Inter captain Javier Zanetti said. "That really hurt us.

"But we're going out with our heads held high. What's going to happen now? Nothing. We've got to focus on the league where we're leading. There are 11 games to go and we've got to do everything we can to win the Italian league, because it's worth just as much as the Champions League."

After three straight Serie A titles and no European Cup since 1965, Inter's fans likely have different priorities.

"To win the Champions League you need a boat full of money and constant improvement," said Mourinho, who is in his first season with Inter. "And that's what we're doing. (United) is superior in physical stature, speed and deadball kicks. But I don't have anything to criticize my players about. To win the Champions League, you've got to grow step by step."

Juventus drew 2-2 with Chelsea but was eliminated on 3-2 aggregate. Pavel Nedved exited Tuesday's match after 13 minutes with an injury, cutting short his final European match before retirement at season's end.

Italian media are speculating that Juventus could sign temperamental — but highly talented — forward Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria.

Meanwhile, Mourinho said he would seek a meeting with Inter president Massimo Moratti to express his views for the future.

"Next year Inter is going to need some new players, and others like (Mario) Balotelli will have improved," Mourinho said. "You win the Champions League with continuity. United today is exactly the same as when it lost the (English) league to my Chelsea team three years ago, except for (Dimitar) Berbatov.

"The first time (Cristiano) Ronaldo played against me he was 18, the same age of (Davide) and Balotelli now. The future is theirs."