Italy was ousted from the European Championship despite beating Bulgaria, 2-1, last night on Antonio Cassano's goal in second-half injury time.
Italy (1-0-2), which lost to France in the final four years ago, finished the first round with five points but wound up in third place in Group C behind Sweden and Denmark, which had identical records but better goal differentials following a 2-2 tie yesterday.
The Azzurri were eliminated in the first round for the second time in the last three European Championship tournaments.
Italy needed a victory to have any chance of advancing. Coach Giovanni Trappatoni rejected speculation that the Swedes and Danes would deliberately play to a tie.
"Despite that everybody was talking about that, there is a sports ethic," he said. "We are leaving the championship with our heads up."
Bulgaria, which lost to the Italians in the semifinals of the 1994 World Cup, went ahead in the final minute of the first half when Martin Petrov converted a penalty kick after Marco Materazzi was called for tripping star forward Dimitar Berbatov.
Simone Perrotta tied the score in the 48th minute with his first international goal and the Italians went ahead on Cassano's injury-time goal. An excited Cassano raced around and went over to Italy's bench with his arms raised in a "V" for victory.
But just before Cassano scored, the Italian bench learned that Mattias Jonson had scored for Sweden with one minute left to tie the score against the Danes, the 1992 champions. Cassano then dropped to his knees, burying his face in his hands.
Meantime, an English fan was stabbed to death after trying to defend himself against a suspected pickpocket. Police believe the killing was not related to the tournament.
-- From News Services