Roberto Mancini was reluctant to discuss his future as Italy manager after branding failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup the biggest disappointment of his career.
The European champions’ hopes of making it to Qatar were extinguished by a shock 1-0 play-off semi-final defeat to North Macedonia in Palermo.
Italian Football Federation president Gabriele Gravina has backed Mancini, who guided the Azzurri to Euro 2020 glory at Wembley just nine months ago, to continue.
World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro is reported to be the leading candidate to take over, should former Manchester City boss Mancini resign in the wake of the monumental upset.
“In July, the Wembley victory was the best thing; this is the biggest disappointment of my career,” said Mancini, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
“We did everything we could to try to win. Some games are like that, difficult to talk about. Incredible things happen in football.
“The success in the European Championship was deserved, then the luck that accompanied us turned into total bad luck.
“I am very sorry for the group. On a human level, I can say that I love the kids more now than in July.
“This national team has good players and a great future. Now I feel too disappointed to speak about my future, we will see.”
Four-time world champions Italy, who finished second in qualifying Group C behind Switzerland, dominated Thursday evening’s game before Aleksandar Trajkovski’s late strike snatched victory for the visitors to set up a play-off final with Portugal.
The Azzurri have now failed to qualify for the last two World Cups after a play-off defeat to Sweden prevented them from participating in Russia four years ago.
But Italian federation boss Gravina said Mancini was committed to the job and gave him his backing.
“We must accept these verdicts, I am embittered for our fans,” said Gravina.
“The great joy of last summer remains, but also the disappointment for this unexpected elimination.
“Mancini? I hope he continues, he has a commitment to a project and I hope he can quickly dispose of the waste.”
According to reports, 73-year-old former Italy coach Marcello Lippi could join Cannavaro as the team’s technical director, should Mancini depart.
Lippi has had two spells as Azzurri boss, from 2004 to 2006 and 2008 to 2010, including overseeing the triumphant 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany when Cannavaro, 48, was captain.
Front pages of Italy’s newspapers were dominated by the defeat.
‘All’inferno’ (To hell’) was Corriere dello Sport’s headline, while La Gazzetta dello Sport opted for ‘Out of the World’ and Tuttosport simply went with ‘Nooooooooo!’.
Despite the understandable gloom, Mancini – who has lost just four of 47 internationals during his tenure and has a contract until 2026 – retains support among the media.
“The insult suffered by the Azzurri, eliminated for the second consecutive time in the race to the final phase of a World Cup, is atrocious,” wrote Xavier Jacobelli in Turin-based Tuttosport.
“Yet, now more than ever the national team needs this coach.
“He is the only one able to do it, even if the disappointment weighs on him like a boulder.”
Corriere dello Sport journalist Fabrizio Patania offered a similar perspective.
“From the roof of Europe to the shipwreck of Palermo,” he wrote.
“The coach Mancini was electrocuted on the bench. He thought he had the game in control. He was preparing overtime (extra-time).
“A three-year cycle led him to win a European title at Wembley that the Italian federation had been missing for 53 years. Now he should recreate the foundations of the future, inventing a new generation.”
La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Stefano Barigelli claimed that Euro 2020 glory had left Italian football “deluded”.
“Miracles never repeat themselves,” wrote Barigelli. “The night of Palermo instead brings with it a boundless bitterness.
“We are not going to the World Cup for the second time in a row because Italian football has remained the periphery of the evolved one, despite the fact that we had deluded ourselves in July at Wembley that we had finally regained our place at the head of the table among the great football players.
“The month of the European Championship was only a happy interlude in the midst of years of disappointments.
“There is still a lack of vision and there is no courage.”