Wednesday November 8 2017
Buffon comes full circle

If there's one man who can guide Italy through the World Cup play-off, writes Emmet Gates, it's the goalkeeper who made his debut in one 20 years ago.

Gigi Buffon has been here before. Italy haven’t been involved in a play-off for a major international tournament in exactly two decades. In the autumn of 1997, Cesare Maldini’s side slugged it out with Russia for a place at France ’98.

Maldini Senior took the reins after Arrigo Sacchi walked out on the national team just two games into qualification, to rejoin Milan in a failed attempt to reignite former glories. Italy and England fought for top spot that ultimately went to England, as Maldini paid the price for refusing to adopt a more attacking outlook. Italy could only draw away to Poland and later to Georgia, with England winning the group by a point.

The first leg, played in truly treacherous conditions at the Dinamo Stadium in Moscow, has entered into calcio folklore. Gianluca Pagliuca suffered an injury just after the half-hour mark in a collision with Andrei Kanchelskis. Pagliuca couldn’t play on and so made way for a fresh-faced Buffon.

Only 19 years old, yet by this time he had already one full season of Serie A experience under his belt, Buffon was impeccable, as despite conceding to a Fabio Cannavaro own goal, he repelled everything the home side could throw at him. Visibility was an issue, as snow continually fell throughout the course of the match. A vital Bobo Vieri goal would see Italy emerge with a 1-1 draw.

Two weeks later, a Pierluigi Casiraghi strike in Naples would seal Italy’s place in France, and Buffon would travel to the tournament as third-choice keeper behind Pagliuca and Francesco Toldo. It was his first of what could be a record-breaking six World Cups.

Whilst he’s highly unlikely to be confronted with a similar experience in Italy’s showdown with Sweden, he will be expected to inspire Italy to make it over the line. In a relatively straightforward group (Spain aside) and even by Italy’s history of laborious performances in qualifying for tournaments, under Giampiero Ventura, they have been nothing short of insipid. 

Ventura’s much-maligned 4-2-4 system has come under constant criticism from the Italian media, with much of the talk being that he’ll bow to public pressure and revert to the tried and trusted 3-5-2. Reforming the ‘BBC’ as if they were a much-loved ‘90s pop band.

A World Cup without Italy, and especially Buffon, would be disastrous. Buffon has publicly stated for several years his desire to hang up his gloves at the 2018 World Cup, ending what many consider to be the single greatest goalkeeping career in the history of the sport.

Just like a World Cup without Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would almost diminish the worth of the tournament, the same applies to Buffon. Italy are very capable of beating a Zlatan-less Sweden side, but, as evidenced by their qualification campaign, their worst enemy under Ventura is themselves. See here for a review of Betfred's sign up offer on Wincomparator.

Let’s just hope that Ventura’s men rise to the challenge and secure their passage to Russia next summer. Just like Buffon so valiantly did in Russia 20 years ago.  

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Have your say...
Now, I hope that Juventus and Gigi go all out hell for leather to win that flipping big-eared trophy, but that will then mean that Gigi won't retire (as he recently said that he will continue to play for another season so that he can compete for the Club World Cup if Juve win the UCL). Let's see what happens.

I Love You, Gigi :)
on the 17th November, 2017 at 6:24pm
In a way the fact that Gigi wasn't in his box when the final whistle sounded kind of detracts a little from the sadness, and also we have to think that if Italy were going to compete in Russia, how truly likely is it that we'd be celebrating a 5th WC? Possibly greater chances of Gigi ending his career with defeat. I know there was the 12 year thing (1982=Win, 1994=Loss,2006=Win,2018=Loss?), so I see it that his international career ended with a goalless draw.
on the 17th November, 2017 at 6:22pm
Imo, Gianluigi 'Superman' Buffon is The Greatest footballing player/legend/icon OF ALL TIME. It isn't just his immense talent that we've witnessed throughout his entire career, but also how humble and respectful he is. When some Italian fans were jeering the Swedish anthem, he tried to encourage otherwise by applauding it. He's demonstrated many other acts of incredible humility.

It remains to be seen if the likes of Neuer & De Gea will be around at Gigi's age and still displaying excellence.
on the 17th November, 2017 at 4:06pm
@Rosario- There is a long story of drawing 0:0 vs. Poland in group stages, when Italy promoted on goal difference. I admit Italy was very difficult to beat (I remember 1974).
on the 14th November, 2017 at 9:12am
Is Buffon to win Champions Ligue trophy with Juve this season??
on the 14th November, 2017 at 9:07am
Ravanelli.. Haha Buffon would say that when we are about to go out! I'll be the drama queen while you walk about with your head up you....! You sound like one of those little boys who sits behind the comp screen hurtling what you think are 'insults' but actually your a bigger joke than the one sat on our bench.
on the 12th November, 2017 at 6:29pm
"While the rest of us" oh please.. Quit being a drama queen.

I love how you just pull things and assumptions outta your behind.

Oh, and:

Keep barking, little doggy.
on the 12th November, 2017 at 2:52pm
People like you with the mentality you have are the very reason we are in the mess we are in. When monday night comes round and we go out and dont go to the world cup you'll be one of those baffoons clapping that Buffon broke another apperance record while the rest of us sit and face reality.
Your a total tool
on the 12th November, 2017 at 11:58am

Just shut up already. 5 comments where you repeat yourself. We get it.

You're nothing more than a petty, pathetic little hater.

The dogs bark and the caravan goes on.
on the 12th November, 2017 at 9:10am
We should ask Buffon if he would play for free... bet he would soon loae the honour some people speak of!!!
on the 10th November, 2017 at 6:24pm
@duke of Juve...
Idiots watch games with their eyes closed. It's a collective failure and buffon is as much to blame as the rest. Against spain Buffon was easily to blame for atleast 2 goals and that goes for most of the others conceded in the qualifiers.
We need to focus less on appearance records and more on playing with the best team possible.
Buffon cant be in the team based on past if that were the case we might aswell call maldini and baggio back!
on the 10th November, 2017 at 6:22pm
If Italy's to be successful they will need total effort and humility from all the youth on this team, we can no longer count on the old guard to win games for us, the Belotti's
and Verratti's need to rise up and take this team by the neck! Im tired of idiots here
bashing players like Buffon and others for having to lead this team, they are the only ones that understand the importance and what an honour it is to play for Italy, it's time for others to grab the torch and play with heart!
on the 10th November, 2017 at 4:06pm
There is a handful of players in the team that think they are bigger than Italy, Buffon is one of them!
Maldini, Baggio, Baresi, Riva the list of greats is endless so I ask; did these players ever get involved with running the teams they were in? NO they mastered their roles and stuck to them. Even as captains they captained the team but never put themselves ahead of the manager.
Why did Buffon and co need to hold a meeting without Ventura, who does he think he is? just retire for god sake!
on the 9th November, 2017 at 10:27pm
Beppe Rossi...
He may be 'better' than Donnarumma but there are others, look at the time we have wasted having him in goal for the last few years!
The only position we seem to have covered is in Goal so why did we use Buffon instead of giving some younger talent an opportunity? We seem to be more concerned with Buffon breaking appearance records than the fact we are in serious decline!
He isn't there to organise he is there to be a shot stopper something he doesn't do well at all!
on the 9th November, 2017 at 10:17pm
Anonymous - Buffon is there because he is still the best in his position. Watch him consistently and you'll see he is still the best at organizing his defence, and making the key saves when Juve need him. Even at 40 he's still better then Donnarumma. Donnarumma's positioning is still eractic, he's not ready to lead the Azzurri.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 7:27pm
Anonymous - Buffon is there because he is still the best in his position. Watch him consistently and you'll see he is still the best at organizing his defence, and making the key saves when Juve need him. Even at 40 he's still better then Donnarumma.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 7:25pm
Please, he needs to retire!
Half the goals we concead are his fault the other half are because we are stuck with mediocre players. Reform is needed. Buffon is only there because Serie A is like an emigration office.
The only reason we diacovered Donnrumma is due to milan having no money to buy a keeper so they were forced to play him and he came good- Donnarumma is a prime example of what talent is in the youth teams, he was the lucky one! Instead we buy cheap from everywhere! Robba di Mafia!
on the 9th November, 2017 at 3:50pm
Gigi sums up the World cup.... the best in the game, plays with a smile on his face, classy guy, friendly to all fans, love Buffon
on the 9th November, 2017 at 1:58pm
True. A World Cup without Italy and Gigi is almost unwatchable.

Let's hope Ventura will stop being stubborn just in time.

Forza Gigi, Forza Italia.
on the 9th November, 2017 at 12:01pm
did enough to win in Naples despite looking a bit nervous. I remember the atmosphere at the San Poalo when Casiraghi got the winner too! I think Italy will b OK this time too but I'm more worried about them this time. Still, any squad that can boast Buffon/Donnarumma,Florenzi,Bonucci,Rugani,Chiellini,De Sciglio,Romagnoli,Verratti,De Rossi,Pellegrini, Marchisio,Bonaventura,Insigne,Chiesa,Belotti,Candreva wi Balo n Giovinco in reserve should at least b competitive no matter who they play!
on the 9th November, 2017 at 8:18am
It does seem like yesterday when as a school kid I watched that now legendary game. Italy should've won the group after winning at Wembley when Cannavaro totally marked Shearer out of the game. I remember the Baggio-Del Piero debate well and Italy also had Zola to rely on then who scored the winner against England. When I saw the snow I thought Italy were at serious risk of losing but I saw Buffon on his debut 4 Parma n he had such a presence, still does if u don't include the Spain game n they
on the 9th November, 2017 at 8:04am
Reading this makes me feel so old. I was just a school kid in '98! I Remember it like it was yesterday. The build-up was so intense for both legs. I'd say the players were under even greater pressure back then due to the huge global reputation of both the Azzuri and Serie A. The drama of the Moscow leg played in the snow, pure footballing theatre. The unforgettable crowd atmosphere of the home leg. Also, how underrated was Casiraghi?!
on the 8th November, 2017 at 5:03pm
Drawing in Poland&Georgia was the only reason Italy ended up in the playoffs in 98. Superior to England, having taken 4 points, failing to win the game in Rome with England parking the bus. Going into the playoff, we had players like Pagluica, Ferrara, Maldini, Cannavaro, Costacurta, D.Baggio and Albertini. level of the current crop is nowhere near that of 98. That's why these 2games vs Sweden will be and are more tricky. We have to approach both matches with total humility.
on the 8th November, 2017 at 3:46pm

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