KIEVDespite having seen his team thrashed 4-0 by Spain in Sunday's Euro 2012 final in Kiev, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said he was proud of their achievements at the tournament.
Italy went into the competition in Poland and Ukraine beneath the cloud of a match-fixing scandal, and seeking to atone for an embarrassing group-stage exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
After drawing 1-1 with Spain and Croatia in their opening two matches, they grew in strength, beating Ireland 2-0 before edging England on penalties in the quarter-finals and then eliminating strongly fancied Germany in the last four.
The final proved a bridge too far, however, with Spain running out comfortable winners to defend the title they won in 2008 and dash Italy's hopes of adding a second European Championship crown to their collection.
"You can never be happy after a defeat, but the more time goes on, the more the minutes pass, you realise we've had an extraordinary tournament," said Prandelli.
"When I fly over Kiev and see the lights in the stadium, I'll have a little pang of disappointment, but I think we've had a fantastic tournament and I think we'll feel better about it tomorrow (Monday)."
Asked to grade the Azzurri's showing, he said they deserved "eight out of 10".
He added: "We started the tournament with a few problems. We had Spain in our group, which was very difficult. I think we've played some terrific games but above all, we really struggled to get back to fitness.
"It's an eight out of 10 because the lads have shown that if you're united, you can chase a dream. They've shown you can win without kicking people. They've shown you can lose with dignity.
"They've reacted to difficult situations, so I'm very proud of my team."
Having reached half-time 2-0 down after goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba, Italy's hopes of a comeback disappeared in the 62nd minute when the departure of injured substitute Thiago Motta left them with only 10 players.
Spain added gloss to the scoreline with late goals from Fernando Torres and Juan Mata, and Prandelli said his side's lethargic performance showed the after-effects of Thursday's 2-1 semi-final win over Germany.
"We played them (Spain) in the group stage," the 54-year-old said. "But I thought we were excellent in that first game because we were 100 percent fit.
"Against a side like Spain, I think you really need to be good in terms of going into the tackle but they completely dominated the contest this evening. We have to congratulate a great side for this victory."
The players who had carried Italy to the final proved powerless to change their fate, with player-of-the-tournament contender Andrea Pirlo outshone by Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Mario Balotelli also endured a frustrating evening.
The 21-year-old striker scored both goals in the win over Germany but was unable to influence proceedings against Spain, and Prandelli said he had tried to reassure the controversy-prone Manchester City player.
"I told Mario: these are experiences you have to deal with," said the former Fiorentina coach.
"You have to accept them, accept the opposition were better, and make sure it helps you going forward; that you grow and learn from the experience.
"Unfortunately this has happened to a number of players, but this is what sport is all about."