An air of disappointment hangs over AC Milan this morning after the holders were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League by two late Arsenal goals at San Siro last night.
Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor struck in the final six minutes as Milan failed to build on a 0-0 draw in the first leg in London, and Brazilian star Ricardo Kaka was left to concede that his side had been well beaten.
"Arsenal deserved to qualify," said the 25-year-old. "They played very well and they were more dangerous than us.
"We only played well in the first 20 minutes then they took control of the match. They dominated us. It is the first time that I have been eliminated from the Champions League so early, but it happens - that's football."
Milan have been on a sensational run in the competition since Carlo Ancelotti took over as coach in November 2001.
His predecessor Alberto Zaccheroni saw his side eliminated in the second group stage of the 2000/01 campaign and Milan did not compete in the 2001/02 edition, but since then Ancelotti has led his side to at least the last eight in the last five Champions League campaigns – a run which included European titles in both 2003 and 2007 and a losing final in 2005.
La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper today reflected on this run in a piece entitled 'The end of a glorious cycle.'
It was also the end of a glorious period for Paolo Maldini who played in what will be his final Champions League match last night.
The 39-year-old defender has said that he will retire at the end of the season, and he will do so having been a European champion five times in the red and black of Milan.
With Ancelotti's side having proved in recent years that they are more than capable of raising themselves to the challenge of European competition despite inconsistent results at home, many thought Maldini would win a sixth winners' medal before retiring.
Yet it was not to be, and the pain of defeat was beginning to dawn for Kaka, whose side are fifth in Serie A, four points adrift of Fiorentina who occupy the fourth and final berth for next season's Champions League.
"Difficult days lie ahead," he said. "However, this team has great experience and we are sure to find the strength to get back on to our feet again and finish fourth in the league.
"These are important moments which help you to grow and I must also thank the fans who were behind us until the end."
Massimo Oddo agreed. "After so many years of success inevitably you have to bow out of a competition, but we have a real will to get back," said the former Lazio right-back.
"Now let's concentrate on the fourth place which we need to get back in."
Gazzetta dello Sport concluded matter-of-factly of last night's match: "Ancelotti's side had no chance. The English team were too strong."
The paper's front-page headline read 'Milan – The End'. Ancelotti and his team can only hope it was in fact another new beginning.