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 By Ben Gladwell

Ex-Italy star Luca Toni to retire after 'worst' ever season with Hellas Verona

Hellas Verona striker Luca Toni has announced his retirement from the game at the end of the season.

Former Italy international Toni, 38, will not take part in Hellas' final game in Serie A at Palermo, preferring instead to bring his career to an end at the Stadio Bentegodi this Sunday, when the guests are Juventus.

"After a bit of reflection, and many years in football, I just felt the right time had come to call it a day," Toni told a news conference on Wednesday. "These have been difficult weeks and it was a hard decision to take, and I know there's going to be a mixture of joy and sadness between now and Sunday."

Toni has been unable to help Hellas avoid relegation to Serie B this season, scoring just five goals after having inspired them as the league's joint top scorer with 22 last season

He had said in August that he was "only going to quit when I'm scoring just three goals a season and am no longer competitive," but on Wednesday he said he regrets ending his career on such a low.

"This has been the worst year of my career for various reasons -- it's been a huge disappointment," the World Cup winner said. "I never had a good relationship with the coach [Gigi] Delneri, as you know, but this is not the place to talk about his decisions. This season has been a defeat for both of us."

It comes so soon after one of his greatest achievements, however.

"Winning the top scorer's award at the age of 38 is one of the most beautiful things in my career," said Toni, who also topped the scoring charts for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga in 2007-08 and with Fiorentina in Serie A in 2005-06.

Toni has not yet decided what he will do next season, although he suggested he will be staying in the game in some capacity.

"What we lack at the top of Italian football are people who really know things about football -- ex-footballers," he said. "I think it's only right for somebody who has a lot of experience to remain in the game.

"I have a soft spot for Hellas and if there are the conditions to start a new job here, then I would be delighted to continue working at this club. But as a coach? Absolutely not."

In addition to winning the World Cup with Italy in 2006, Toni lifted the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal with Bayern and made almost 600 appearances in a career that started at his hometown club Modena back in 1994.

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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