Former Italy Under-21 midfielder Piermario Morosini died Saturday after suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing on the pitch during his team Livorno's Serie B match at Pescara. He was 25.
Edoardo De Blasio, a cardiologist at Pescara's Santo Spirito hospital, confirmed Morosini's death, saying "unfortunately he was already dead when he arrived at hospital. He didn't regain consciousness."
Morosini, who was on loan from Serie A side Udinese, fell to the ground in the 31st minute of the match and tried unsuccessfully to get up several times before receiving urgent medical attention on the pitch. A defibrillator was used on the player, who also had his heart massaged, before an ambulance arrived on the pitch to take him to hospital where doctors tried to revive him for around an hour and a half.
A consultant in the hemodynamics department at the hospital, who was watching the game and rushed to help before the ambulance arrived, said Morosini never regained consciousness.
"Morosini never had a single heartbeat again," Leonardo Paloscia said. "From when I arrived he never gave a sign of revival, not in his respiration nor his heartbeat. When I arrived everything (his heart, respiration) was stopped.
"No one can say what the cause was, I think nothing will come out until after the autopsy."
The autopsy will likely be held on Monday. All Italian matches this weekend were immediately called off after the death was announced.
"We are living through a drama," Pescara's general manager, Danilo Iannascoli, told Sky Italia.
It was the latest high-profile case of a football player collapsing from heart failure on the pitch, coming less than a month after Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba suffered cardiac arrest during a game in England. Muamba survived, but remains in intensive care.
It also comes days after AC Milan and Italy striker Antonio Cassano was given the all clear by a 10-man committee of experts to resume playing again following minor heart surgery after he fell ill with stroke-like symptoms on a flight back from a game six months ago.
An inquiry into Morosini's death will be opened and will focus particularly on the car belonging to traffic police which blocked the ambulance's way into the stadium, creating a delay. A window had to be broken so the car could be moved, while players and officials were frantically gesturing for the ambulance to get there as quickly as possible.
"At the beginning we didn't really understand the seriousness of the situation," Pescara goalkeeper Luca Anania said. "I immediately ran to Livorno's half, where Morosini had fallen.
"There was great confusion and I seemed to understand that there was also a bit of delay in help arriving, because they said the ambulance couldn't get on the pitch because the entrance was blocked by another car. Some of my teammates helped carry the stretcher by hand to the ambulance."
The match was abandoned with Livorno leading 2-0, and several players left the field in tears. Livorno players and officials rushed to hospital, where they were told their teammate had passed away.
"Only tears. There are no words to express what I tried to when I found out about Piermario Morosini's death," FIFA President Sepp Blatter tweeted in Italian. "The tragedy which hit everyone who wished him well, is a source of great pain for football fans.
"Since I am not able to be physically close to his family, I want to emphasize how much my feelings are with them at this time."
Morosini was orphaned in his teens. His mother died when he was just 15 and was followed by his father two years later. His brother died shortly afterward too, leaving the young Morosini with just an older sister.
"They are things which mark you and change your life," Morosini said in 2005 following the death of his parents. "But at the same time they instill in your body so much anger and help you to always give everything to realize what was also my parents' dream."
Morosini came through the youth system at Atalanta before moving on to Udinese.
"He was golden, always trying to help his family," Atalanta youth team director Mino Favini said. "He was a fantastic lad who always rushed to help everyone. He lived for his family, yet he was such an unlucky man."
Morosini made six appearances for Udinese before he was loaned to Bologna in 2006 and then Vicenza for two seasons. Morosini made 18 appearances for the Italy Under-21 side and was a member of the 2009 European Under-21 Championship squad, which reached the semifinals.
He had two other loan spells at Reggina and Padova before returning to Vicenza and then moving to Livorno in January.
"Goodbye Piermario, you will always remain in our hearts and in the hearts of everyone who had the fortune to know you and to have you in their lives," a Vicenza statement said.
Last month, Muamba collapsed during an English FA Cup match against Tottenham after suffering cardiac arrest. Bolton has said he is making "strong and steady improvements" in his recovery.
Days after Muamba was hospitalized, Indian football player D. Venkatesh died after collapsing on the field during a local league game in the southern city of Bangalore.
There have been several deaths in top-level football over the past decade. Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed and died during Cameroon's Confederations Cup match against Colombia in 2003, while Sevilla's Antonio Puerta passed away in 2007, three days after collapsing with a heart attack during a league match against Getafe.
Motherwell midfielder Phil O'Donnell died in a similar incident and Espanyol's Dani Jarque also died of a heart attack in the team hotel on a pre-season trip to Italy.