SHANGHAI (AFP) - Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro wrote a heartfelt open letter on Tuesday (March 31) to his homeland, saying seeing the country ravaged by coronavirus "is filling me with anxiety and pain".
"I cannot describe how horrible it feels to see Italy suffer like this, to see so many lives lost each day," he wrote in "A Letter to Italy" published on The Players' Tribune website.
"My heart goes out to all the people who have been affected, and especially to those who have lost someone they are close to."
It came as Italy marked a minute's silence and flew flags at half mast to mourn the 11,591 people who have died in the country - the most worldwide - from the coronavirus pandemic.
The 46-year-old Cannavaro is an Italian football legend, lifting the World Cup as skipper in 2006 and making 136 appearances for his country.
The former Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Juventus defender is now coach of Guangzhou Evergrande in China, where the virus emerged in December before spreading across the globe.
Cannavaro, who steered Guangzhou to the Chinese Super League title last season, said that Italians, himself included, had been guilty of underestimating the health emergency.
But now was the time for them all to pull together, said the Naples-born Cannavaro, urging his compatriots to summon the "spirit of unbreakable unity" which Italy displayed to become world champions.
"People often ask me why Italy won that World Cup," he wrote.
"We didn't win it because we were lucky. We won it because we had the best team - and because we believed we would win it."
Cannavaro, recently out of quarantine in China, hopes that "a vaccine will become available as soon as possible, so that we can put an end to this nightmare once and for all".
"Until then, we just have to dig in," added the former central defender, who won the Ballon d'Or in 2006. He said the victorious 2006 team had started a fund-raiser for Italy's overwhelmed hospitals.
"We must all remember that this battle is a team effort, and that we need everyone to join in," he wrote.
"Sure, it is true that none of us is Superman. But when we stand together, we can achieve anything.
"Stay strong, my brothers and sisters."