MELBOURNE, June 27 (Reuters) - Australia was in a state of disbelief on Tuesday after the Socceroos' incredible World Cup journey ended in heartbreak.
A highly dubious stoppage-time penalty earned Italy a 1-0 victory over Australia in the second round, reducing thousands watching the game in public arenas to silence and even tears.
The atmosphere in Melbourne's Federation Square, the focal point for support of Australia's first World Cup campaign for 32 years, changed as the Socceroos had a quarter-final berth snatched from their grasp.
'That decision was a disgrace, we didn't deserve to lose like that,' said chef Sean Bowyer. 'It's just unbelievable.'
Australian media focused on the crucial decision by Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo, who awarded a penalty after Italy's Fabio Grosso tumbled over following a challenge by Australia defender Lucas Neill.
'The decision was absolutely disgraceful,' former Australia coach Rale Rasic said of the penalty on host broadcast station SBS.
Australian newspapers lamented a defeat made more painful by the fact the Socceroos enjoyed the better of the game and that Italy played most of the second half with 10 men following the sending-off of defender Marco Materazzi.
'So Cruel' screamed the Daily Telegraph front page, while the Sydney Morning Herald headlined its match report with 'Goodbye, cruel world'.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard was very disappointed but proud of his team.
'I'm broken-hearted,' Howard told reporters in Indonesia. 'It's a very cruel way to lose, right on the knocker like that, but the team just played so bravely the whole match.'
Just as with the first-round match against Croatia, multicultural communities experienced divided loyalties.
In Melbourne, the focus was the city's Italian quarter along the restaurant strip of Lygon Street, where the 'Forza Italia' banners have stood alongside Australian flags since the tournament began.
No one cared that Guus Hiddink's side were depriving them of sleep for a fourth time with a 1 a.m. (1500 GMT Monday) kick-off time against Italy, the three-times World Cup winners.
Over 40,000 people had been expected on the streets but there seemed to be significantly more than for previous matches watching at specially erected screens.
The mood in Sydney was subdued as thousands made their way into work.
'I can't believe that we lost like that,' accountant David Seaton said. 'You wouldn't mind losing to a deserved penalty but that was just a joke.'
Other fans were more upbeat, preferring to dwell on the positive aspects of their team's World Cup campaign, which included a 3-1 win over Japan, a 2-0 defeat by Brazil and a dramatic 2-2 draw with Croatia to book a place in the last 16.
'We have had a fantastic run and we are very proud of our boys,' graphic designer Carrie Marlin said. 'The tournament has been awesome.'