For the second night in succession a team invoked the memory of 1966, but this time the recollections were all bad. 30 years ago Italy crashed out of the World Cup at the group stage after an ignominious defeat to North Korea. On their return they were greeted by barrow loads of rotten tomatoes.
Last night they tumbled out of Euro 96, a gifted team undone by managerial misjudgement. If rotten tomatoes are all Arrigo Sacchi gets when he returns home, he can count himself fortunate. The Italian coach may feel his team were unlucky not to save themselves with a victory over an unadventurous Germany last night. In a sense he will be right, but the damage was done last week, when Italy lost to the Czech Republic.
That followed a raft of team changes by Sacchi and, though he restored his senior players to the team at Old Trafford last night, they could not recover the lost ground. It will not have escaped domestic notice that Sacchi, having left behind Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Baggio and Beppe Signori, saw his side go out for want of a single goal.
Where now for Sacchi and the Azzurri? He said he had not even thought about resigning and the ink is barely dry on a million dollar a year contract. But, for many Italians, that will not be worth a single lire.
For now Sacchi seems safe. Within minutes of their exit Antonio Matarrese, head of the Italian football federation, said Sacchi stays in his job as long as he does. Matarrese comes up for re-election in September.
Though Sacchi made errors, he was unlucky. Afterwards he said he thought Italy were "bewitched" in European Championship competition and, though that sounds bizarre, it looked that way after seven minutes last night.
That was when Pier Luigi Casiraghi caught Matthias Sammer in possession and advanced on goal. As Andreas Kopke came out he rounded him only for the goalkeeper to deliberately lift a leg and trip him.
That it was a penalty was beyond dispute, it also seemed as clear a scoring opportunity as could be. Yet Guy Goethals, the Belgian referee, not only failed to dismiss Kopke he did not even book him. It was an act of refereeing cowardice. Sacchi refused to comment on his leniency, Berti Vogts evaded the question.
As if Kopke's survival were not bad enough, he did not even have the decency to let the penalty in. Not that he had much choice, Gianfranco Zola's shot was so weak it suggested he was as overcome by the occasion as the referee. Kopke went on to be made the official man of the match, Zola went on to have a stinker. "This mistake cut his legs," said Sacchi.
Goethals did eventually send a German off, Thomas Strunz for his second bookable offence after 59 minutes. By then it was too late; Italy, paralysed by anxiety, had lost their early polish. Instead they repeatedly chose the wrong options, sending in aimless crosses or trying to dribble their way past a phalanx of defenders.
Then came a period of high drama and near farce as news spread that, 40 miles down the East Lancs Road, Russia had taken the lead against the Czechs. Sacchi, who had been flinging on substitutes and generally doing a fair impression of Graham Taylor's haunted final hours in Rotterdam, now waved his players back as the large Italian support celebrated.
Then, as suddenly as they had erupted, they fell silent - the Czechs had equalised. As the German supporters massed in the Warwick Road end started gloating, Sacchi frantically tried to lift his side. It was too late and, within minutes, they were slumped on the ground while their own supporters sat silently in disbelief.
Their team had shown passion, endeavour and organisation. It was not enough, when it mattered they did not have the imagination to break down a staunch German defence. Apart from the penalty they created few real chances, the best being a series of volleys from Diego Fuser. Germany, for their part, offered little and failed to trouble Angelo Peruzzi.
They did not need to. The favourites, who were watched by such luminaries as Chancellor Kohl and Boris Becker, march on to a quarter-final meeting with Croatia. The Azzurri are left to wonder at what might have been.
ITALY (4-4-2): Peruzzi (Juventus); Mussi (Parma), Costacurta (Milan), Maldini (Milan), Carboni (Roma); Fuser (Lazio), Albertini (Milan), Di Matteo (Lazio), Donadoni (New York/New Jersey MetroStars); Zola (Parma), Casiraghi (Lazio). Substitutes: Chiesa (Parma) for Di Matteo, 68; Torricelli (Juventus) for Carboni, 78; Di Livio (Juventus) for Fuser, 81.
GERMANY (1-4-3-2): Kopke (Eintracht Frankfurt); Sammer (Borussia Dortmund); Strunz (Bayern Munich), Helmer (Bayern Munich), Freund (Borussia Dortmund), Ziege (Bayern Munich); Hassler (Karlsruhe), Moller (Borussia Dortmund), Eilts (Werder Bremen); Klinsmann (Bayern Munich), Bobic (VfB Stuttgart). Substitute: Bode (Werder Bremen) for Moller, 89.
Referee: G Goethals (Belgium).
Bookings: Italy: Casiraghi. Germany: Strunz. Sending-off: Germany: Strunz.
Man of the match: Helmer. Attendance: 53,740.