Conte's Italian blueprint is one to envy
Conte and his team bow out, but set an example for the rest of the world
Finally, the Italians met their match.
But a nation earned respect in defeat, even as the Azzurri slumped to the Stade de Bordeaux turf amid dancing, victorious Germans.
A loss is never easy to swallow, more so when emotions zip freely between the polar opposites of delight and desolation so often and so quickly.
Antonio Conte's men went through the whole gamut yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Against the odds, they equalised against Germany to force extra time and stubbornly clung on to parity in the additional 30 minutes.
They led in the subsequent penalty shoot-out and looked like they were going to win it until their fourth and fifth takers fluffed their spot-kicks.
But Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, finding himself in the position of a potential match-winner, ballooned his team's fifth penalty to hand Italy a lifeline.
Alas, the Germans held their nerve in sudden death and the Italians cracked.
Gianluigi Buffon's tears were especially poignant, considering how close Italy came to a Euro 2016 semi-final spot.
But, in their magnificent run, which included victories over Europe's top-ranked side Belgium and defending champions Spain, they may well have shown the world the blueprint on how to harness the strengths of a limited squad and punch above their weight.
This has a been a tournament for underdogs who have mastered the art of playing smart.
And the Italians have done it better than the rest.
They arrived in France without a proven striker.
They went into the tournament missing two of their best midfielders in Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio.
But Conte built his team around the world-class rearguard of a Juventus defensive shield comprising Buffon and Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in front of him.
Conte devised a game plan designed to frustrate, so that opponents got lured into a false sense of security.
It was predictable soak-and-strike strategy, but they did it so well that they struck fear into star-studded rivals.
It saw Germany switch to a back three to neutralise the Italian threat.
Said Conte: "The world champions changed their system for us and that's a reason to be proud."
The next Chelsea manager later added: "A route has been set out. I will leave an important legacy which will allow for great things to happen."
This was a classic case of making the most of what was available.
On the tactical front, the players carried out the manager's orders to the letter, unwavering under pressure.
Patience was the key.
But, perhaps galvanized by a general lack of belief in the team, Italy also developed a superb camaraderie and resolve.
The team became the priority, personal glory was cast aside.
It showed in their tactical discipline, fighting spirit and industry.
One statistic from Italy's campaign stood out. In all five matches they played, they ran more than their opponents.
Even in his sorrow, Buffon could see the poetic beauty.
The skipper said: "To have a hardworking and united group is our greatest victory."
Italy might have lost the match but, along the way, they won over plenty of hearts.
And were proof that stars don't necessarily make a strong team.
Today is the most difficult day for me. I’m a lot more emotional than I was last night because now I realise it’s all over. I feel sorry for the team but, for me, it was a huge honour to coach them.
— Italy manager Antonio Conte
Our national flag had lost some of its shine... But Conte, as everyone has seen, made the difference for us. He helped to unite us again and helped lay the foundations of a house that we will continue to build. We were lucky to have him on board... It’s a huge loss for us.
— Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio
(Mesut Oezil 65)
(Leonardo Bonucci 78-pen)
- 1-1 after extra time, Germany win 6-5 on penalties
Five lessons from Germany-Italy clash
Germany advanced to the European Championship semi-finals after a tense and thrilling victory over Italy in Bordeaux yesterday morning (Singapore time).
After a 1-1 draw in 90 minutes and with no winner found during extra time, the game ended with a shoot-out - with Germany eventually running out 6-5 winners after nine penalties apiece.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at five things we learnt from the quarter-final encounter.
1 GERMANY CAN MISS PENALTIES
Having scored every penalty since 1982, Germany went into the penalty shoot-out as favourites but their infallibility from 12 yards was shown to be a thing of the past.
Despite advancing, Die Mannschaft missed three penalties having only ever missed two in their tournament history. Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil and Bastian Schweinsteiger all failed from the spot, but were saved as Jonas Hector tucked home the winning penalty at the ninth attempt.
2 ENGLISHNESS RUBS OFF ON PREMIER LEAGUE PENALTY-CHOKERS
Time in the Premier League, training and playing alongside England's usual penalty flop appears to have taken their toll on some of the best players on the continent.
The Three Lions did not have the chance to mess things up from 12 yards at this tournament having already been sent packing by minnows Iceland, but the England effect has still been in place.
All four Premier League-based players who stepped up in the shoot-out - Oezil, Schweinsteiger, Graziano Pelle and Matteo Darmian - all failed from the spot. How very English...
3 MUELLER IS MORE OF A WORLD CUP KINDA GUY
Mueller (above) has scored 10 goals in World Cup Finals for Germany, but has never found the back of the net for his nation in the European Championships.
He went all the way through Euro 2012 without scoring and has endured another goalless tournament this time round, fluffing an effort and seeing another chance marvellously blocked.
He could not even score his penalty in the shoot-out and will be hoping that changes in the semi-final.
4 WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE REAL EMANUELE GIACCHERINI?
A flop during his time at Sunderland, Giaccherini showed once again that he has the ability to compete at the top level.
He may not have been able to inspire the Azzurri to victory, but he was so much better than his forgettable stay at the Stadium of Light.
Italy boss Antonio Conte is a big fan, having taken the 31-year-old to Juventus, and his faith in a man who was loaned to Bologna last season has been mostly rewarded.
5 YELLOW PERIL
So much was made of those players one booking away from being suspended for a potential semi-final that any time Viktor Kassai blew his whistle there was an expectation that someone would be walking on a knife-edge.
Mats Hummels will miss Germany's last-four encounter after picking up a yellow card, while Italy went into the game with as many as 11 players just a booking away from missing out.
As it was they did not make it through but if they had, both Mattia de Sciglio and Pelle would have had to sit the last-four match out - with calls throughout the game on social media calling for an adjustment to Uefa's rules.