By Colin Moffat
BBC Sport at Hampden
Scotland fans could not believe they had suffered such a painful defeat
Pack away the cowbells and cancel the yodelling lessons. Scotland are not going to Euro 2008.
Italy will be making the short trip to Austria and Switzerland next summer after snatching a 2-1 victory at Hampden in the cruellest of fashions.
A draw would have prolonged our agony for a few days at least. And, make no mistake, Scotland were worth at least a share of the spoils.
Prior to the match, we heard the spine-tingling Intermezzo from Mascagni's 1890 opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, made famous by the movie Raging Bull.
And, like the boxer Jake La Motta in Martin Scorsese's masterful biopic, Scotland picked themselves up off the canvas to turn in a stirring performance of raw guts and determination.
The Italian heavyweights were up against the ropes for long spells, but two sucker-punches left Scotland bruised and bewildered after a gut-wrenching 90 minutes.
Plan A was to sit back and pack the midfield. It is the strategy that has served Scotland so well in this campaign.
But, when Luca Toni stabbed the ball home after just 70 seconds, it called for a change of policy.
And Scotland, roared on by an amazing support, responded with a spirited display.
Sure, we got a lucky break when Antonio Di Natale was incorrectly ruled offside after he slammed in the rebound following a fantastic save from Craig Gordon.
But the karma bank was levelled when an Italian handball was not punished with a penalty and Andrea Pirlo popped up to clear David Weir's header off the line in the final moment of the first half.
Barry Ferguson's goal against Italy showed what the Scots can do
Barry Ferguson's equaliser came at exactly the right time.
The noise in the stadium was just starting to dip below deafening and the goal breathed new life into the home side.
Then came that miss.
James McFadden, the darling of the Tartan Army, looked destined to find the net after 80 minutes after a wonderful move had ripped the wilting Italians open.
But the stretching forward somehow missed the gaping target from a few yards out.
Worse was to come when a scandalous decision gave the visitors a late free-kick and Christian Panucci snuffed out our dreams with a header.
A bedraggled team took a lap of honour as fans refused to leave the stadium.
And supporters can be very proud of their team for pushing the World Cup finalists Italy and France all the way.
"Well done Scotland. I don't think anyone expected us to do this well," said Jim Elliot from Kirkcaldy.
"The Italians are a really good team, but I thought the referee was bit unfair - especially with that foul for the last goal."
Craig McDowell, from Glasgow, added: "I thought, when it went to one each, we had the better of them.
"It's been a great campaign, but losing in Georgia was a big result. A win over there would have made life a lot easier."
And Ross Taylor, from Musselburgh, said: "I'm absolutely gutted. I thought we were going to do it. We'll have a few shandies and drown our sorrows."
Enough has been said about the team over-achieving in such a difficult group.
I'd prefer to see it as setting a new benchmark.
Not every player was at their best at Hampden, although Alan Hutton can expect a call from Inter or Juve after a wonderful turn at right-back.
This is a relatively young squad and, with a number two seeding certain, we can look forward with confidence to a good World Cup 2010 campaign.