Gianluigi Buffon remains positive after Italy's failure to reach World Cup
Italy's legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon struggled to fight back tears but remained positive about the future as he tried to come to terms with Italy's failure to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
Italy's 0-0 draw against Sweden at Milan's San Siro ensured there would be no Squadra Azzurra in Russia next summer, and no record sixth World Cup for Buffon.
The four-time champions had been present at every World Cup since 1958 -- and Buffon himself since 1998 -- and the 39-year-old's retirement from international football was made prematurely on Monday night.
"I'm sorry -- and not just for me, but for everybody involved," Buffon told RAI. "We've failed something which could have been big also on a social level and this is my only disappointment.
"I'm sorry that my final game coincided with us not qualifying for the World Cup."
Buffon felt that luck had not gone Italy's way, but he said that they could have no excuses.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game and in the end, it was decided on an incident. They got the breaks and we didn't, but when things don't go your way, then you probably also have some blame too."
However, Buffon refused to pin that blame solely on coach Gian Piero Ventura, who reports said handed in his resignation after he refused to speak to RAI following the final whistle.
"Sport is about winning and losing together," Buffon said. "He's got as much blame as all of us have. I'd like to wish these lads all the very best of luck. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, but I hope at least we can take some benefit out of this as an example.
"I want to give a big hug to everybody who has always supported me, like Chiello [Giorgio Chiellini], Barza [Andrea Barzagli], Leo [Bonucci], Lele [Gabriele Oriali, team manager] and everybody who's shared these past 10 years with me.
"I leave behind a national team who have got quality and will have people talking about them, from Gigio Donnarumma to [Mattia] Perin -- I'm sure they will ensure I am not missed.
"There is still a future for our football. We are a proud, stubborn and hard-working nation and we always find a way of lifting ourselves up after bad falls."
After joining Italy as an unused substitute at the 1998 World Cup, Buffon made his World Cup debut in 2002, then helped Italy lift the trophy at Germany 2006. He was injured in Italy's first game in 2010, then returned in 2014, but Italy failed to make it out of the group stage.
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.