ROME  - Italy's footballers were welcomed back by a small group of just a few dozen fans on Monday after defeat by Spain in the Euro 2012 final but said they were already looking forward to the World Cup in 2014.

Arriving on a flight from Krakow in Poland at Rome's Fiumicino airport, the footballers dressed in suits and ties were greeted with shouts of encouragement and later attended a high-pomp ceremony with President Giorgio Napolitano. Fans chanted the national anthem and asked the players to autograph a placard reading "Go Italy" before the footballers boarded their buses.

One player, Leonardo Bonucci, admitted to AFP before getting on that there was an overwhelming feeling of disappointment among his team mates. "There is always sadness because we were there -- one step away from the dream, from realising something important," he sighed.

"Unfortunately we did not manage to impose ourselves against a great team. Now we are leaving this Euro with the will to put into practice the tactics that (coach) Cesare Prandelli taught us," he said.

"We'll prepare well for the World Cup" he added, as focus turns towards the qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

At the ceremony in the president's Quirinale palace, Prandelli said he was grateful to Napolitano for coming to support the team in its first match against Spain in Gdansk and for inviting them over "whatever the result". Napolitano was Italy's "biggest fan" and had helped the team get over their crushing 4-0 defeat, Prandelli said.

The coach added the players were proud to have represented Italy and handed the president the silver medal they brought back. Team captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon later presented the other members of the team to the 87-year-old president, who stood up one by one as a sign of respect.

Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli also gifted Napolitano a football. Napolitano expressed his gratitude "on behalf of the institutions and millions of Italians" saying the team's achievement had been "extraordinary." "I could see the passion that fired you up and your love for Italy, which were the best presents you could have given us," he said. "This team which has just been rebuilt with so much wisdom still has a long way to go and we will see each other again."