Italy was humbled 1-0 on aggregate by Sweden as the colour yellow took over Milan on Tuesday. With the defeat, Italy had suffered a historic crash which will keep them away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. For the first time since 1958, and the third in the history of football world cups, the Italians would not ply their trade in the world’s grandest football competition. As the biggest low hit Italy’s rich football history, veteran Gianluigi Buffon too gave away his hopes and expressed disappointment on the loss. The Italian skipper, who had earlier announced that the upcoming World Cup will be his last one, a record sixth appearance had Italy qualified, appears to have played his last game in what is a heartbreaking retirement from international football for the legend.
“It’s a shame my last official game coincided with the failure to qualify for the World Cup. Blame is shared equally among everyone. There can’t be scapegoats,” said the Italian captain who has been guiding the nets for his country since 1997. The only goalkeeper to have been honoured by the UEFA player of the year title, Buffon with his heroics in between the sticks helped Italy clinch the World Cup in 2006. He has been a phenomenal custodian throughout his glorious career and has also led Italy and Juventus exemplary well. The 8 times Serie A champion with Juventus admitted how tough it is to leave the county at such crucial point. “I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football,” an inconsolable Buffon told Italian broadcaster Rai.
Following suit, Buffon’s Juventus teammate Andrea Barzagli and Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi are also expected to call it off after Italy’s elimination. “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,” said Buffon after the loss to Sweden. However, he went on to say that the future looks bright for Italian football and the players will plot a fight back soon.
To celebrate the remarkable legend of Gianluigi Buffon, here are top 10 saves from his extraordinary international career.
1) Italy vs France, 2006
It was intense. A World Cup final. France and Italy were engaged in a fearsome battle with both sides tied 1-1 in extra time. Willy Sagnol runs from the right flank and carves a brilliant flying ball for Zidane to head. The Frenchman’s determination to break the deadlock and lift the cup for France was all put forth in that strong powerful header which stormed towards Buffon. But the magic had happened as Buffon collected all his might, took a sturdy jump and punched the ball over the post denying a potential World Cup winner to Zidane and France.
2) Inter Milan vs Parma, 1996
Gianluigi Buffon was an unknown entity in 1996, just like other talented youngsters he was fighting for a place in Parma’s first team. Buffon was tried ahead of Lucca Bucci and Alessandro Nista in the Parma side and he cemented his place with skillful display against top Italian sides in Serie A. It was during the 1996-97 season, that Buffon pulled off an amazing save and announced himself in Italy. Buffon blocked a screamer towards the top right edge of the post and left everyone stunned.
3) Juventus vs Ajax, 2004
The flying Italian was at his best when Juventus took on Ajax in the group stages of the Champions League. A sensational free-kick placed perfectly by the Ajax player was denied by the Italian legend who dived across and dashed the ball away ensuring a 1-0 victory for his side. The masterpiece by Buffon was a treat for the eyes of Juventus players and fans.
4) Werder Bremen vs Juventus, 2006
Another Champions League encounter, another classic save by Gianluigi Buffon which earned a hard-fought 2-1 victory for the Old Lady of Turin. After conceding a goal in the Champions League clash against French ace Micoud, Buffon made an exceptional save to see off the challenge from the Germans. A hefty set piece attempt from Werder Bremen had almost been executed before Buffon interrupted with a stupendous flyer and denied ball the post.
5) Juventus vs Parma, 2002
It was the initial phase of Buffon asserting his dominance in a Juventus shirt when he gave a taste of his medicine to his former side Parma. The Italian custodian presented an exceptional display of goalkeeping skills denying three back to back attempts by Parma forwards. When the Juventus defender failed to guard him, Buffon took the matters into his own hands, went forward and saved an attempt only to deflect the ball on another Parma player’s feet. In a flash of a second he got back up and dived on the opposite side to save another striking attempt and this time the ball after being resisted found the head of another player. The final header was safely cancelled by Buffon as he grabbed the ball close to his heart.
Relive Gianluigi Buffon’s 10 best saves here:
6) Italy vs Germany, 2006
It was the match which ended Germany’s title hopes in their own backyard at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Lukas Podolski, with ample space and time, put all his might in a shot towards Buffon, but the Italian’s gloved hands were enough to neutralise it and deny Germany a goal in what went on to be their last game in the 2006 World Cup. Germans lost the match 2-0 and exited the event on a disappointing note.
7) France vs Italy, 2008
It was a group encounter in the Euro 2008 where Italy was leading France 2-0. A pack of beaten men in blue were trying to break the deadlock, but Gianluigi Buffon had other plans. A relatively young Karim Benzema picked the ball up 25 yards out and curled a delicious dipping effort towards Buffon’s net, only for the keeper to palm it away at full stretch. Italy secured a comfortable 2-0 win in the clash.
8) Real Madrid vs Juventus, 2003
Real Madrid earned a deserved 2-1 victory in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League. French superstar Zinedine Zidane was on fire that particular day but one of his best taken freekicks brought out one of the finest one-handed saves by Gianluigi Buffon. Zidane struck hard and placed it right in the blockhole at the lower left corner of the post and Buffon swept away with the ball with a skilful.
9) Juventus vs Feyenoord, 2002
Juventus earned a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Dutch, courtesy of Buffon’s brilliance at the nets. Attacking midfielder Anthony Lurling took a delicious strike towards the far corner, only for Buffon to make a flamboyant save. It was hard to believe for the Feyenoord player to see his attempt go in vain.
10) AC Milan vs Juventus, 2003
Swift header lower on the ground just what the Milan forward wanted from the attempt but Buffon had an answer to that too. In a blink of a second, Buffon dived towards his left and stayed low to divert the ball’s passage.