PARIS • Holders Spain may have been inferior in a 2-0 defeat by Italy in their European Championship last-16 tie, but their exit did not mark the end of an era and they have a bright future, said coach Vicente del Bosque.
Spain had dominated European football since 2008 by winning the last two Euros and a World Cup in between, but were outshone by an organised and clinical Italy at the Stade de France.
"I don't think an era has finished, but we understand how difficult it is to win a major championship," del Bosque told reporters.
"Spanish football has a great structure and we've been working for many years on it. We have a good youth academy and good young players."
For all his positivity, any sign of Spanish superiority was absent against Antonio Conte's Italy.
Like an ailing heavyweight, Spain and their hopes of a third straight European title ended in a tame surrender to a first-half effort from defender Giorgio Chiellini and a stoppage-time goal by striker Graziano Pelle.
4 in 7
Spain's defeats in World Cup and European Championship matches - one more than in their previous 31 major tournament matches.
The Azzurri are through to the quarter-finals and Spain are left to mull over a second successive failure on the international stage.
They came into the tournament hoping to re-establish their status as the game's dominant power and prove their shock early exit at the 2014 World Cup was an exception, not the rule.
Their failure, however, to land a glove on the ageing Italians showed that the Spain team might still float like a butterfly, but no longer sting like a bee.
Spain were second best from the start against an Italy side who were better organised, more effective on the ball and ruthless in every department.
The Italian defence, regimented like no other in the world game, never looked like being dragged out of position by their opponents' passing patterns.
The Spanish midfield axis of Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, for so long the engine room of the national team's dominance, looked slow and ponderous.
Spain used to make other sides chase shadows as they passed the ball around them but, until Chiellini had opened the scoring by bundling home from a free kick, the two sides had shared possession equally.
"In the first half, we were more concerned about watching them play than playing our game," admitted Iniesta.
The defeat was Spain's fourth in their last seven World Cup and European Championship matches, which is one more than in their previous 31 major tournament games.
This was also their first competitive defeat by Italy since the 1994 World Cup and only their second loss to the Italians in 12 encounters, including friendlies.
The two sides will meet again as early as October, when they begin their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup.
Del Bosque declined to say if he would continue as Spain coach, although he added that his immediate future would be discussed with the president of the Spanish football federation.
Should he walk away, it would be a further break from the golden era that is now firmly in Spain's past.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE