Honduras accuse Australia of spying
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 appear-
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 second-rate Italy side.
The Azzurri drew 0-0 on Monday to lose 1-0 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 34-year-old midfielder Daniele de Rossi, who also lifted the 2006 World Cup, also retiring from internationals, along with Buffon’s Juventus team-mate 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 HONDURAS coach Jorge Luis Pinto has accused Australia of “espionage” after claiming they had used a drone to film his team’s training sessions ahead of today’s decisive World Cup playoff match.
The Honduran National Football Federation on Monday posted on Twitter footage of a drone flying above Sydney’s Olympic Stadium where the team trained after their long flight from Central America.
Honduras face the Socceroos at the same stadium today in the deciding second leg of their intercontinental playoff with the scores level at 0-0 after a tight first leg in San Pedro Sula on Friday.
While Football Federation Australia said they were not involved in the drone incident, Pinto said the affair was embarrassing for such an advanced country.
“Let’s not be innocent, it’s espionage in football,” he told reporters through a translator yesterday.
“When Australia went to Honduras, they checked every bathroom, every box at the stadium where they trained.
“It just takes some of the merit away from the fair play and the sporting event.”
Pinto was also involved in a row with the media at the start of Monday’s session when he tried to start training before the 15 minutes of open access allowed under Fifa rules.
The Colombian also suggested on his arrival in Sydney that someone in the Honduran media had leaked tactical details to Australia.
“Regardless of the incident with the drone and the possibility of a journalist from Honduras leaking information regarding our team, we are happy with the welcome we have had here,” Pinto said.
“We are facing a balanced side. We need to be aggressive and I’ll be even happier we’re able to go back to Honduras with qualification.”
Honduras’s bid for a fourth appearance at the World Cup finals and third in a row, has been far from plain sailing and they needed two second-half goals to clinch a place in the playoff with a 3-2 win over Mexico last month.
Today Pinto will be able to call on experienced captain Maynor Figueroa and winger Alberth Elis, who were both suspended for the first leg.
But it is the long balls through to forward Carlo Costly, who came close to breaking the deadlock in the first leg, that might concern Australia most as they seek to avoid conceding an away goal.
“Without a doubt we’ll be employing long balls tomorrow,” Pinto said.
“If the head coach of Australia is watching the press conference, he has an insight into our game plan.” – Reuters
HEARTBREAK: Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has bowed out of the international stage in the worst imaginable way after the Azzuri failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia.
SPY SAGA: Honduras coach Jorge Luis Pinto says someone in the Honduran media has leaked tactical details to Australia.