London: Italy manager Cesare Prandelli admits he faces a huge task to lift his shattered players in time for the World Cup after Riccardo Montolivo was ruled out of the tournament with a devastating broken leg.
AC Milan midfielder Montolivo suffered a fractured left leg in a challenge with Republic of Ireland defender Alex Pearce early in the first half of Saturday`s 0-0 draw at Fulham`s Craven Cottage.
The 29-year-old was rushed to hospital for scans that confirmed he would play no part in Brazil and he is expected to be flown to Milan for surgery on Sunday.
Prandelli`s players were visibly shocked by their team-mate`s cruel exit and struggled to establish any momentum for long periods of a stalemate that extended their winless run to six matches.
There were emotional scenes in the dressing room after the final whistle as they came to terms with the extent of Montolivo`s injury and Prandelli knows it is essential to try to heal the psychological wounds as soon as possible.
"First all our thoughts are with Riccardo. We have to be rational. After what happened everyone got distracted. It is too emotional now," he said.
"We saw the players inside. Everyone is broken and really sad about what happened.
"Montolivo is a key player for this squad. He is a point of reference not only on the pitch but off it for his behaviour.
"He has such a good attitude. I think all the lads were really shocked by what happened."
To make matters worse, Prandelli also saw midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who had come on for Montolivo, forced off with an injury before half-time.
The Azzurri boss is unsure of the severity of Aquilani`s problem and he revealed he may delay the announcement of his final 23-man squad, which had been due on Sunday, by 24 hours.
"We haven`t decided yet. On Sunday we will go back to Florence and we will assess the situations and do some tests. We need to assess the condition of all the other players as well," he added.
The only positives for Prandelli on a dispiriting evening were the solid performances of debutant left-back Matteo Darmian and fellow new-boy Ciro Immobile up front, with Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi`s 70-minute outing after a serious knee injury also an encouraging sign.
"About the positives for tonight, Darmian`s performance was fantastic," said Prandelli, whose side face Luxembourg in a friendly next week ahead of their World Cup opener against England on June 14.
"Immobile? I think he did well. He had a couple of good ideas, as a player he is very generous and his overall performance was very good.
"We are working and I think we are going the right way. We are experimenting in training with our midfield and it is important we come up with the right plan."
While Italy focus on getting healthy for the World Cup, Republic boss Martin O`Neill has been dealing with speculation that his assistant manager Roy Keane is set to take over at Scottish champions Celtic.
Keane was in the dug-out at Craven Cottage, but O`Neill admitted there is a chance the former Manchester United star could be appointed as successor to Neil Lennon before Ireland head to the United States for two more friendlies next week.
"I haven`t spoken to him today about it at all. We were concentrating on the game but we can assume that something will be resolved by Wednesday," O`Neill said.
"It`s not a deadline I`ve set. My assumption is Celtic have got games coming up and I`d assume they want to make a decision relatively quickly.
"I think we would all be very disappointed if Roy goes. My own view is he has settled in well and has been terrific around the players. I think he has enjoyed it."