"We began without big expectations and we made Italy dream," said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli as he and his players received a hero's homecoming, despite their final defeat.
The day after losing the UEFA EURO 2012 final against Spain, the Azzurri returned home to a warm welcome, despite the disappointment at missing the chance to win their first contintental title for 44 years.
Before leaving for Rome, coach Cesare Prandelli held a press conference in Krakow. "We must be proud and satisfied for what we have done during this tournament," said the 54-year-old coach. "We've fashioned an innovative team, that always plays fair. Everybody have seen us and appreciated us. The final's outcome shouldn't discourage us – we don't have to move backwards.
"We have been brave enough to make changes in a country that we know to be old and in need of change. Our football follows that path. We began without big expectations and we made Italy dream," he added.
As soon as the Italian players landed in Rome, they were cheered by a few hundred airport workers determined to show their appreciation to an Azzurri squad that surpassed many people's expectations. There was a big ovation for Prandelli, with coach-lauding chants of "Great mister, thanks mister" echoing around, while the players were welcomed as winners.
That Spain's four-goal margin of victory in the final set a new EURO final record has hurt the Italian team, but they know the quality of their vanquishers and captain Gianluigi Buffon thinks they could not have done more. "We faced the best team of the competition and we weren't at peak fitness," he said. "We feel bitter about the final score, but we are aware we have had a great tournament."
The Azzurri had been invited to visit the Italian President, Giorgio Napolitano, on their return, and following their arrival at Fiumicino airport they headed for the Quirinale, where they were praised by the head of state. "As your coach said you have a long way to go. But you have achieved a great goal that everybody appreciates. I think I was able to capture the passion that motivates you," he told the team, referring to a letter he wrote to the Azzurri praising their team spirit and commitment ahead of the final.
Prandelli revealed his pride at being welcomed by the president and offered his UEFA EURO 2012 silver medal as gift. "Thanks for the invitation, it helped us to endure the defeat," he said. "We are proud to have represented the values that you mentioned in your emotional letter. Thank you very much."
Italy Football Federation (FIGC) president Giancarlo Abete echoed those sentiments as he offered his response to the team's efforts, expressing his gratitude at the invitation before declaring his contentment at the Azzurri's achievements: "We are satisfied because we have done our best and we honoured our country."