Italy's disappointing 2002 World Cup ensured that at Euro 2004 they were eager to make amends and go one better after the Euro 2000 final golden goal defeat to France.
Drawn with Scandinavian pair Denmark and Sweden - as well as Bulgaria - they were overwhelming favourites to win their group. But an opening goalless draw against Denmark - in which Francesco Totti was retrospectively banned for three matches after spitting at Christian Poulsen - would set the tone for an ignominious campaign.
They then drew their second match versus Sweden, as Antonio Cassano's header in the first-half was cancelled out by an ingenious flick from Serie A-bound Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
With one game to go, Italy had to win. Both Sweden and Denmark had beaten group whipping boys Bulgaria, but if they drew 2-2 then the Italians were guaranteed to be eliminated on goal difference.
Each game was played concurrently, but in Guimarães disaster struck for the Azzurri as Marco Materazzi hauled down Dimitar Berbatov just before half-time. Martin Petrov tucked away the penalty, while in Porto Denmark also led their rivals at the interval 1-0 thanks to a stunning Jon Dahl Tomasson volley.
Italy hit back shortly after the restart when Simone Perrotta equalised, as 55 kilometres away Henrik Larsson did likewise after winning a penalty, having been upended by goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.
Tomasson hit back for his second of the match and third of the tournament, while Italy continued to pepper the Bulgarians' goal in Guimarães. And then it happened.
In the 89th minute Sorensen meekly parried a shot into the path of Mattias Jonson, who slotted in the equaliser. As television pictures covering the Italy match provided the update, seconds later Cassano scored a 94th minute winner and jubilantly ran to the players and staff on the bench.
Sweden celebrate Jonson's equaliser
Believing Italy had risen from the Ashes, the Roma striker was ashen-faced when soon informed Sweden had levelled to make it 2-2. Conspiracy theories predictably began to emanate from the Italian camp.
Italian soccer federation president Franco Carraro said: "The way the game developed shows that the two teams were aiming for a draw."
Sorensen, praised by opposite number Gianluigi Buffon after the opening game for his man of the match display, was now being criticised by his fellow custodian for his culpability in the Swedes' two goals.
Despite the mud-slinging, nothing stuck. Italy were out.