Charting the decline of the illustrious is an industry in itself. In Italy, it may prove one of the most productive trades of the year. The Azzurri, World Cup winners in 2006, propped up a group including Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand this summer in South Africa.
Friday's draw with Northern Ireland, a team representing a province of 1.7 million people, could be seen as a further indication of how far the mighty have fallen. It could, too, be an example of an unfancied side mounting a heroic rearguard action to deny the favourites their expected triumph. It was neither.
When Cesare Prandelli said he was "satisfied" with a stalemate in Belfast, it was understandable. Northern Ireland's Windsor Park, where England, Spain, Sweden and Denmark have all fallen in the past six years, has become one of international football's more feared venues. And it is the continuation of an unlikely success story. In 2004, Northern Ireland were ranked 124th in the world, a side unable to score and seemingly doomed to a permanent status among the minnows.
Their renaissance is notable for the fine management of Lawrie Sanchez and Nigel Worthington and for its length. With four points from their first two Euro 2012 matches and a game in the Faroe Islands today, this threatens to be the third successive qualifying campaign where they overachieve. Their revival has conferred on a player the sort of hero status his various club managers seem unable to understand. Improbably, the most prolific European Championship qualifying campaign ever was recorded by David Healy, whose dazzling attempts to take his team to Euro 2008 included 13 goals.
Yet the one-man team tag has long been incorrect. Despite a personal drought, Healy now serves as the inspiration to others. On Friday, Warren Feeney, a substitute for Oldham Athletic against Leyton Orient six days before in a League One match, the third tier of English football, knocked the ball past Giorgio Chiellini, the Juventus defender, and tried to beat him with pace and skill. He did not succeed, but a suspension of critical faculties is required among the Ulstermen.
Northern Ireland's population dictates that Worthington operates with a limited pool of talent. Gareth McAuley, the centre-back, was still a part-time footballer when he turned 24 while two midfielders Worthington brought on in Slovenia last month, Johnny Gorman and Corry Evans, have a combined total of zero first-team appearances at club level. Evans - the brother of Jonny, the Manchester United regular - scored the winner with his first touch.
The likelihood remains that Northern Ireland will retain their status as worthy contenders who always fall short. Not since 1986 have they qualified for a major tournament. Were Euro 2012, rather than the 2016 competition, expanded to include 24 teams, the probability is that these endearing underdogs would get the reward their efforts have merited. As it is, they can savour the knowledge that another of the world's elite teams has left Belfast tamed by the outsiders.
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The contrast with Northern Ireland is supplied by Wales. Seven years ago, 73,062 fans were in the Millennium Stadium for the Euro 2004 play-off against Russia, a match that the country with a population 50 times higher shaded by a solitary goal. Now, should they lose in Bulgaria tonight, Wales will be rooted to the foot of Group G, without a point. In March, when they are set to return to the Millennium Stadium, England's visit should generate plenty of revenue. The worry for Wales is that most of the tickets could be bought by away fans.