Never go back. If only Marcello Lippi had followed that maxim he would still be known as the suave mastermind who guided Italy to their fourth World Cup. Instead he will also be remembered as the man who oversaw their most disastrous finals for 36 years, when a certain Fabio Capello was playing for them.
Instead it is Slovakia, World Cup debutants, who head for a second round tie in Durban on Monday. Robert Vittek, who scored twice, said: "We've moved the limits of Slovak football. We couldn't have dreamt about this." True enough, but Slovakians are not complete novices. When Czechoslovakia won the European Championships in 1976, there were more Slovaks in the team than Czechs.
This is, nevertheless, a huge shock, the more so as Slovakia fully deserved to beat an Italian team who seemed in the grip of the same paralysis that suffocated England against Algeria.
"I take all responsibility, all responsibility for what happened," said Lippi. "If a team turns up at such an important game like tonight with terror in their heart and their legs, and is unable to express its ability, it's because the coach didn't train the team as he should."
In an attempt to revive the Azzurri, Lippi recalled Gennaro Gattuso and Antonio Di Natale. This meant the XI featured three of the team that lifted the trophy in Berlin four years ago: Gattuso, Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro. On the bench, available for the first time following a calf injury, was another 2006 veteran Andrea Pirlo.
They began well enough, Di Natale releasing Vincenzo Iaquinta only for the latter to shoot wide, but seemed then to lose shape and belief. Slovakia gradually took control and were rewarded after 24 minutes. Daniele De Rossi unaccountably played a ball out of defence straight to Marek Hamsik. The Serie A-based playmaker fed Vittek who steered his shot inside the far post.
Italy's uncertainty was betrayed when captain Cannavaro committed two bad fouls in quick succession. Howard Webb booked him for the first, but opted for leniency after the second. The Englishman also cautioned Zdenko Strba, who will thus miss the second-round tie, and Vittek before the break. Slovakia reached that deservedly ahead, the abysmal nature of Italy's display underlined by their biggest threat coming from an opponent, Martin Skrtel, heading just over his own crossbar.
Lippi made another brace of changes at the break, withdrawing Gattuso, who had looked off the pace, and left-back Domenico Criscito. Within 10 minutes he had summoned Pirlo as well in an attempt to provide some accuracy and fluency to their appalling passing.
It worked, to an extent, and the champions did go close to an equaliser, substitute Fabio Quagliarella having a volley cleared off the line by Skrtel midway through the half. The Italians claimed the ball had crossed the line. Inconclusive television pictures suggested Darren Cann, the assistant referee, had probably made the right decision.
Six minutes later Italy failed to clear a set-piece and Vittek got ahead of Giorgio Chiellini to Hamsik's first-time cross. It seemed all over. Then came a rare moment of Italian quality. Quagliarella fed Iaquinta, received his back-heeled return and shot, Jan Mucha denied him but Di Natale followed up to score.
Quagliarella, Mucha and Juraj Kucha were embroiled in a fracas in the net, as the Italians tried to get the ball back. Webb calmly settled it with two more yellows. The drama continued as Quagliarella thought he had levelled, but Cann flagged him offside. It was another marginal, but probably correct, call.
Vladimir Weiss, the finals' youngest coach at the age of 45, brought on Kamil Kopunek. Within two minutes the substitute ran past Di Rossi, onto a throw-in, and lobbed Federico Marchetti.
All over? Not yet. Quagliarella chipped in a superb goal from 20 yards. Cue constant play-acting from "injured" Slovaks, and a 95th-minute chance for Pepe at the far post. He mis-kicked. Seconds later Lippi stormed down the tunnel, not even shaking Weiss's hand.
With France suffering a similarly ignominious exit this is the first time the finalists from the last World Cup have both departed so early. Italy, who even finished below New Zealand, last conceded three goals in a World Cup game in 1970, but that was a respectable loss, to Brazil in the final. This is humiliating.
Slovakia (4-4-2): Mucha; Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Zabavnik; Kucka, Strba, Hamsik, Stoch; Vittek (Sestek, 90), Jendrisek.
Italy (4-3-3): Marchetti; Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Chiellini, Criscito (Maggio, h/t); Gattuso (Quagliarella, h/t), De Rossi, Pepe; Iaquinta, Monolivo (Pirlo, 55), Di Natale.
Referee H Webb (England)
Man of the match Vittek
FANS EYE VIEW
Antonello Bux - a 39-year-old restaurant manager in London, originally from Bari.
It was the worst performance I have ever seen since from Italy since I started watching them as a nine-year-old boy.
They were clueless, just throwing the ball up front, it was disgusting. They played like they didn’t want to win. It was the same set of players and manager which won the last World Cup and they seemed too satisfied, like they had already achieved what they wanted. Where was the passion? Where was the drive? I would not give any of the players a higher rating than a 6.
New players will have to come to into the side soon, and I have faith in new coach Cesare Prandelli (who will be replacing Lippi) to reinforce the squad ahead of the Euro 2012 qualifiers. He had done a great job with Fiorentina.
We have players we could have chosen like Antonio Cassano, Fabrizio Miccoli and Alberto Aquilani, all three have something to offer the team. Cassano gives us the speed and vision we have been desperately after.
I watched the game in the same pub I was in yesterday for the England match, it was packed yesterday but isolated today, in fact it was just me and a Slovakian fan there, he was pleased. I had to leave before the end of the game, it was that unwatchable.
Quite simply, this has been the worst Italian team for 45 years.Reuse content