BORDEAUX • Italy coach Antonio Conte insisted his battling players have left their mark on Euro 2016 but, after their quarter-final penalty shootout defeat by Germany, he is already looking towards his "new adventure" with Chelsea.
"We battled all the way, but football can bring you joy and pain," an emotional Conte said on Saturday, after seeing his side suffer their first loss to the Germans in nine outings at major tournaments.
Instead of spending this week trying to reach Sunday's final, Conte will have a seven-day holiday before making London - and Stamford Bridge - his home for the foreseeable future.
The 46-year-old former Juventus coach caused some confusion when he appeared to suggest that he had reconsidered whether to continue with Italy instead of taking up his post with Chelsea.
He was then at pains to insist that was not the case: "The decision to leave the national team after two years in charge was made before the tournament.
"I won't deny that there (were times) when I would have liked to continue... but because of certain developments, I wasn't able to go back on that. I wanted to return to the cut and thrust of club football. Now, I have the opportunity to start this exciting adventure.
"I know it will be a difficult challenge, but it's one I will cherish."
Chelsea limped to a 10th-place finish in the last Premier League season, so their fans should welcome the fiery Conte with open arms.
Through a combination of grit, personality and a lot of dramatic gesticulating on the touchlines, he transformed a team who suffered their second successive first-round exit from the World Cup in 2014 into bona fide title contenders at Euro 2016.
He refused to blame any player for the loss to Germany.
"Ultimately, the disappointment was huge in the dressing room," he said. "We were leading before the fourth penalty... but football can bring you joy and disappointment.
"However, a top side go through in Germany. They're the world's best side and we were able to match them.
"The players really gave it everything, and I don't think there's anyone who can say a harsh word against them. Now, I'll leave this little war machine behind."