The Azzurri have the chance to make history on Tuesday against the Czech Republic. A win would mean Italy book their ticket to the World Cup in Brazil, securing qualification with two rounds to spare – something the Nazionale has never previously achieved. It wasn’t always pretty, but September fixtures rarely are, especially when players like Mario Balotelli, Dani Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivo are suspended. The credit goes to two men: Alberto Gilardino and Gigi Buffon.
It was a night for the Old Guard in Palermo, as 31-year-old Gila silenced his critics with a well-taken header and 35-year-old Buffon put in one of the best goalkeeping performances of his glittering career. Is it a coincidence these two players also won the World Cup in 2006? Cesare Prandelli doesn’t think so. “When Gila runs out of energy, he keeps going, as that is what a World Cup winner and a Nazionale player has to do. He knows how to suffer and feels no fear.”
Nobody ever said Gilardino should be first choice for Italy, but as a valid alternative to the fiery Balotelli and Osvaldo he’s just the ticket. We’ve already seen this term that veterans like Luca Toni still have much to give, while nobody is more consistent in front of goal over the last few years than Antonio Di Natale.
It was really Buffon’s night in Palermo and boy did he deserve that. For months we’ve listened to armchair pundits complain Gigi has ‘lost it’ and ‘can’t get down quick enough’ to block shots. A sprightly kitten couldn’t have reacted quicker to those Bulgaria efforts from point-blank range. He was simply magnificent and his post-match comments only reiterated his position as a true captain, both on and off the field. We’ve recently seen Manuel Neuer and Joe Hart commit howlers, so I say Buffon is still up there as the best goalkeeper in the world.
All of Italy now waits for Tuesday night, when Buffon can match Fabio Cannavaro’s all-time record of 136 Italy caps, secure World Cup qualification historically early and soak up the praise from his very own Juventus Stadium crowd. There’s plenty of life in the old dogs yet.