Italy was once the land of defenders. Those were the days.
With Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy tearing through the Azzurri defense at will in the Netherlands' 3-0 win Monday, Italy fans were probably pining to bring back the "Catenaccio."
It was the most lopsided loss for Italy in the history of the European Championship.
With injured captain Fabio Cannavaro sitting on the bench next to his crutches, Marco Materazzi and Andrea Barzagli were picked apart by the Dutch attack.
Cannavaro underwent surgery after injuring his ankle in the Azzurri's opening training session at the tournament. Combined with Alessandro Nesta's and Paolo Maldini's retirements from international play, Italy's defense is weaker than at anytime in recent memory.
It was only two years ago when Italy won the World Cup by allowing only one goal from normal play _ and an own-goal at that, by Cristian Zaccardo against the United States.
Van Nistelrooy had already had two chances when, from what appeared to a clear offside position, he stuck out a leg to redirect a 26th-minute shot past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The World Cup champions had no one to blame but themselves for the second goal, with Wesley Sneijder left wide open to volley in a cross by the near post.
Buffon saved another dangerous shot by Van Nistelrooy in the 43rd that almost made it 3-0 before halftime, with Materazzi trailing so far behind the play that the striker had only the goalkeeper to beat.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst added a third goal for the Dutch in the 79th on a counterattack, with the Azzurri defense again trailing behind.
Italy's previous worst loss in the tournament was a 2-0 defeat to the Soviet Union in the 1988 semifinals.
Italy coach Roberto Donadoni had acknowledged that Materazzi's form at the beginning of training was a bit behind the rest of the team, and it showed. The recipient of Zinedine Zidane's head-butt in the World Cup final has had a miserable season.
Materazzi injured his right thigh in a friendly with Hungary in August and missed three months following surgery. When he returned, he often found himself relegated to the bench with Inter Milan.
After finally working his way back into Inter's lineup, Materazzi picked up two yellow cards in the first leg at Liverpool that contributed to the Nerazzurri's elimination from the Champions League.
Last month, Materazzi missed a penalty kick against Siena that nearly cost Inter the Serie A title. He later apologized for taking the ball away from forward Julio Ricardo Cruz, who was preparing to take the penalty, but the critics still punished him relentlessly _ although Inter clinched the title a week later.
Donadoni finally pulled Materazzi for Fabio Grosso in the 54th and reshaped the entire defense. Grosso took over at left back, Gianluca Zambrotta shifted over to right back and Christian Panucci moved into central defense.
With high-scoring Romania forward Adrian Mutu awaiting the Azzurri in Italy's next group game Friday, Giorgio Chiellini and Alessandro Gamberini _ with only 12 appearances for the Azzurri between them _ are the team's only other defensive options.