JOHANNESBURG, June 25- Italy coach Marcello Lippi took full responsibility for the reigning champions' disastrous World Cup exit following Thursday's dismal 3-2 defeat to debutants Slovakia at Ellis Park.The loss ensured Italy even finished bottom of what had appeared a weak Group F including Paraguay and rank outsiders New Zealand.
Italy failed to win any of their games and while they finally seemed to find a solution to their scoring problems in the final quarter of an hour against the Slovaks, their normally impenetrable defence had already crumbled.
But Lippi was not going to make any excuses.
"I take full responsibility. There are no excuses because when a team comes to something as important as tonight’s game with terror in their legs, their heads and their hearts, and they don’t manage to express themselves, it means that the coach hasn’t prepared them in the right way from a psychological, technical and physical perspective," he said.
"I take full responsibility, I’m sorry for everyone in Italy but obviously I haven’t prepared this team well enough.
"Everyone was waiting for something but we didn’t get going and we didn’t get a reaction in the second half.
"Everyone thought we would do something different in this tournament, not necessarily winning the World Cup, but something different."
Italy were listless for 75 minutes before they finally managed to find a spark and although they scored twice, had a ball cleared off the line and a goal disallowed for offside, they got what their performance deserved.
"For one hour and 15 minutes we didn’t manage to perform for psychological reasons, I was convinced something else would happen today," added Lippi.
Veteran midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, who was ineffective in the first half before being replaced at the break, said Italy had hit a new low.
"When we won the World Cup they made us ‘Knights of hard work’, now they will make us ‘Knights of shame’," he said.
"That’s normal. Italian football needs to examine itself because we’ve hit rock bottom. We need more talent, we need something more.
"We didn’t expect to be leaving in the first round in a group like this, that’s what hurts the most. Losing in a group like this with no big teams is very disappointing."
Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who missed the game with a herniated disc, said the problem lay in a lack of creative players in the country.
With AC Milan playmaker Andrea Pirlo only able to make one substitute appearance due to a calf injury, Italy had no-one else capable of making a difference.
"With Pirlo’s absence we lacked something from a creativity perspective," said Buffon. "But there was no-one left behind in Italy who could have brought us something in that regard. That’s the reality of Italian football."
Pirlo himself said that this was the end of an era but he insisted that it wasn’t fair for the coach to take full responsibility.
And he made no attempts to hide his belief that Italy had missed an opportunity.
"It’s shameful to have not got out of a group like this, we could have done much better," he said.
"We didn’t win a single match, that’s a huge disappointment. Everyone’s at fault.
"I think this is the end of a cycle because for many of us it will be difficult to play in another World Cup."