Livorno's Piermario Morosini has died after suffering a cardiac arrest during an Italian second division game at Pescara on Saturday, prompting the country's soccer federation to postpone this weekend's professional matches.
"We have done everything possible to save him but he never regained consciousness," doctor Leonardo Paloscia told reporters.
Another doctor at the Pescara hospital said the 25-year-old, a former Italy under-21 international who was at Udinese until January, was dead on arrival at hospital.
The news comes just weeks after Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba suffered the same problem in an English FA Cup match before making a remarkable recovery.
Serie A said in a statement that the federation had postponed all the weekend's professional soccer matches.
Morosini, born in Bergamo and a former player with the city's Atalanta team, fell to the ground with no one around him in the 31st minute.
He got up looking confused and then collapsed again as medics and then an ambulance rushed on to the field, although media reported that the local council will hold an investigation into whether the ambulance was blocked by the car of a police officer.
The Serie B game was abandoned with Livorno leading 2-0.
Italy and Inter Milan defender Andrea Ranocchia was a friend of Morosini, who was orphaned as a teenager and also lost a brother.
"There is huge grief. It leaves an enormous hole," he told Inter's website from Udine where their late game with Udinese never started.
AC Milan were due to host Genoa in Serie A in an earlier kickoff at 1600 GMT and fans were already inside the stadium waiting for the game when the news came through from Pescara.
At first Milan said there would be a minute's silence but then the public announcer told the crowd the game would be postponed along with all other Serie A matches this weekend.
There was applause but also some whistles.
The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), which confirmed Morosini had suffered a cardiac arrest, announced in a statement that all other sporting events taking place this weekend would hold a minute's silence.
The issue of soccer players' health has long been in focus across the game with extra medical and heart checks being brought in throughout many leagues.
Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed during Cameroon's 1-0 victory against Colombia in a Confederations Cup match in June 2003 in Lyon, France and died shortly afterwards aged 26.
The shock over that high-profile death, one of at least 20 in the last 20 years in professional soccer leagues, led to changes but some believe more needs to be done.
In the wake of Bolton's Muamba suffering a cardiac arrest while playing at Tottenham Hotspur in an FA Cup quarter-final on March 17, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini - an Italian - said English medicals were not as good as in his homeland.
Muamba too fell to the ground with no one near him and doctors later said he had been "in effect dead" for 78 minutes while his heart did not beat on its own. He was revived and has gone on to make extraordinary progress in hospital.
He is now walking and recently tweeted a photograph of himself sitting up in bed and smiling.
The Italian medical system hailed by Mancini did not help Morosini, however. Tearful Livorno players travelled to the hospital to pray alongside his body.
Italy is used to sporting tragedy.
Last month former Italy volleyball international and Olympic silver medallist Vigor Bovolenta, 37, died on court in a fourth division game after a similar heart problem to Morosini.
Last October, popular MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli was killed in a crash at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Franco Ballerini, the coach of Italy's cycling team, also died in a rallying accident in 2010.
(Writing by Mark Meadows, additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Ken Ferris)