Scotland fell agonisingly at the final hurdle in their Euro 2008 qualification bid as Christian Panucci's last-gasp header earned Italy a 2-1 win at Hampden Park.
Alex McLeish's side needed to win to ensure a path to Austria and Switzerland next summer and, despite going behind just two minutes in, they almost overcame the reigning world champions.
Barry Ferguson's 64th-minute tap-in cancelled out Luca Toni's opener and Panucci struck in injury-time. To add insult to injury that devastating late blow came after the Azzurri were awarded a free-kick after Alan Hutton appeared to be impeded by sub Giorgio Chiellini.
Afterwards McLeish was furious with Spanish referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez. He was adamant an injustice had been done when Hutton was penalised.
"We didn't deserve that, to lose that game, we battered them in the second half and they were dead men walking at the end," he said.
"The set-piece that led to their second goal was an unbelievable decision. Alan Hutton was in control of the ball and their guy battered him. How can that be a free-kick to Italy?
"They got most 50-50s and we expected that."
But despite his heartbreak, McLeish insisted his players should be proud of their efforts both at Hampden Park and throughout their campaign.
"I'm proud of these players," he added. "That first goal was so unlike us. It took the power away from us for a spell.
"We were making chances, we were imaginative, but unfortunately it didn't fall for us. It was a terrific effort and you could see the fans' appreciation after the game.
"The Italians know they were a lucky team to leave Hampden Park with a victory. We've got to take heart from this and confidence."
The World champions also had complaints about the refereeing, as they had an Antonio Di Natale goal incorrectly disallowed for offside in the first half and Scotland’s equaliser was probably offside.
Striker James McFadden meanwhile claimed Scotland had been "absolutely robbed" by the decision to award Italy that late set-piece.
He said: "After all the hard work we've been absolutely robbed by the referee. I think he was shocking. Coming from the Ukraine game, people didn't want us to qualify and they've got what they wanted."
Source: C4 Football Italia