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Italian soccer fans react with dismay during a public viewing of the match against Slovakia in Milan on Thursday. ((Antonio Calanni/Associated Press))

The early exit of defending champion Italy in the World Cup left this soccer-crazed nation Thursday in shock and anger.

Italy lost 3-2 to Slovakia in a crucial group match. The world champions failed to win a single match during their campaign, having previously drawn with Paraguay and New Zealand.

"Azzurri, Farewell to the World Cup," said the online editions of Corriere della Sera, the country's largest newspaper.

"Going Home in Shame," said Gazzetta dello Sport.

It was only the third time Italy had exited at group stage.

Even though expectations were low for a team that was seen as old and slow, few in Italy would have predicted an early exit in a group that was widely seen as the competition's easiest. But the Azzurri finished last in their group, for the first time in Italy's World Cup history.

"It was pure sadness," said a fan, 37-year-old Francesco Faggella minutes after the match.

Fans who had gathered in a Rome park to watch the match on giant screens started leaving as Slovakia's goals piled up. In downtown Milan, people poured out of pubs after the game and walked home in shock.

La Repubblica wrote that "it's worse than with Korea," recalling the shock exit at the hands of North Korea at the group stage in 1966. The last early exit occurred in 1974.