Sad farewell for Italy’s Buf­fon

His ca­reer fin­ished not in Rus­sia but with hu­mil­i­at­ing World Cup exit

The New Age (Gauteng) - - SPORT -

IT WAS a tear­ful farewell for Italy leg­end Gian­luigi Buf­fon, who had dreamed of bow­ing out with an­other record in a stel­lar ca­reer – a sixth World Cup fi­nals ap­pear­ance.

In­stead, his ca­reer fin­ished not in Rus­sia but with a hu­mil­i­at­ing World Cup play­off exit against Swe­den at Milan’s San Siro sta­dium, as Italy missed out on the fi­nals for the first time in 60 years.

The charis­matic 39 year old had solidly rep­re­sented the Az­zurri for the past 20 years, earn­ing a record 175 caps, but this time not even he could lift a sec­ond­rate Italy side.

The Az­zurri drew 0­0 on Mon­day to lose 1­0 on ag­gre­gate, end­ing Buf­fon’s bril­liant in­ter­na­tional ca­reer which in­cluded the 2006 World Cup ti­tle.

He fol­lows an­other leg­endary Italy and Ju­ven­tus goal­keeper, Dino Zoff, who also de­parted the in­ter­na­tional scene af­ter a de­feat to Swe­den.

“I’m not sorry for my­self but all of Ital­ian foot­ball,” an in­con­solable Buf­fon told Ital­ian broad­caster Rai.

“We failed at some­thing which also means some­thing on a so­cial level. There’s re­gret at fin­ish­ing like that, not be­cause time passes.”

The de­feat rep­re­sents the end of a gen­er­a­tion with An­drea Barza­gli, 36, and 34­year­old mid­fielder Daniele de Rossi, who also lifted the 2006 World Cup, also re­tir­ing from in­ter­na­tion­als, along with Buf­fon’s Ju­ven­tus team­mate Gior­gio Chiellini.

“My Barza­gli, my De Rossi, my Chiellini... they will leave as well, I think Leo Bonucci will con­tinue. I say thanks to ev­ery­one, I don’t want to steal the spot­light from any­one,” Buf­fon said.

Fate­fully, Buf­fon’s long ad­ven­ture with the na­tional side fin­ished as it had started – at a World Cup play­off.

Un­der the snow of Moscow in 1997, Gian­luca Pagli­uca was in­jured and coach Ce­sare Mal­dini had no choice but to turn to the young Buf­fon.

“Do you feel like com­ing on?” he asked. Buf­fon played, he was good – as al­most al­ways since – and he was a fix­ture from then on, first as a sub­sti­tute, then num­ber one goal­keeper and fi­nally cap­tain.

In ad­di­tion to win­ning eight Serie A ti­tles with Ju­ven­tus, Buf­fon was key to Italy’s World Cup tri­umph in Ger­many when he con­ceded just twice in seven games – a record he shares with Spain’s Iker Casil­las and France’s Fa­bien Barthez. Buf­fon also re­mains the only goal­keeper to win the Uefa player of the year award.

His two des­per­ate cor­ner kicks in in­jury time on Mon­day are im­ages that will be re­mem­bered, along with his tears and his man­ner of belt­ing out the Ital­ian na­tional an­them, eyes closed and crush­ing the shoul­ders of his neigh­bour.

“I was lucky to play my en­tire ca­reer with him, at Ju­ven­tus and the na­tional side,” said Chiellini. “There’s no doubt that some­times I don’t even re­alise what it means to be in front of such a strong goal­keeper. Some­times it seems sim­ple but it’s only be­cause it’s him.”

De­spite his trade­mark stub­ble show­ing the odd fleck of grey, the ad­vanc­ing years are hav­ing lit­tle ef­fect on the re­flexes and am­bi­tion of the ev­er­green Buf­fon.

Buf­fon, whose mother was a dis­cus thrower and fa­ther a weightlifter, made his Serie A de­but with Parma, win­ning the Ital­ian Cup, the Ital­ian Su­per Cup and the Uefa Cup be­fore join­ing Ju­ven­tus for €51m in 2001 and go­ing on to be­come a club leg­end with his eight Serie A ti­tles. A true work­horse, he has con­stantly pro­gressed tech­ni­cally and has lost al­most none of his ex­tra­or­di­nary phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

He be­came a goal­keeper at only 12 years old, hav­ing started off as an of­fen­sive mid­fielder and, ap­proach­ing 40 years, Buf­fon re­mains one of the best in the world in his po­si­tion. – AFP

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