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FOOTBALL

Tearful Gianluigi Buffon hangs up his Italy shirt

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.

Tearful Gianluigi Buffon hangs up his Italy shirt
Gianluigi Buffon mourns Italy's lost World Cup hopes. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP.

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 Azzuri 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,” said Buffon.

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.


Gianluigi Buffon in 2000. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP.

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 gallops upfield for two injury-time corners 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.”


Buffon and his teammates. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP.

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 51 million euros 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.

Above all, his charisma, his experience and his measured way of expressing himself have made him a senior figure in Italian football.

The Juventus captain, who has already said he will likely retire from all football at the end of this season, said Italy fans still have plenty to look forward to, with AC Milan's 18-year-old 'keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma set to take the international number one shirt.

“There is certainly a future for Italian football, as we have pride, ability, determination and after bad tumbles, we always find a way to get back on our feet,” he added.

“I leave a squad of talent that will have their say, including Gigio Donnarumma and [Genoa 'keeper] Mattia Perin.”

He has one final ambition with Juventus: to win the Champions League, after finishing runners-up twice in the past three years.


Gianluigi Buffon with the World Cup trophy in 2010. Photo: Tiziani Fabi/AFP. 

 

FOOTBALL

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players’ ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome

Italy’s national football team reportedly insisted on taking an open-top bus tour through Rome to show off their European Championship trophy to crowds of fans - despite city authorities forbidding it amid concern about the spread of coronavirus.

Euro 2020: Concern about virus spread after Italy players' ‘unauthorised’ victory parade through Rome
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The team’s bus parade through the city on Monday night following their Euro 2020 triumph “was not authorised”, according to Matteo Piantedosi the head of Rome’s prefettura (the public safety authority).

Thousands of fans packed the streets of central Rome to see the team celebrate their cup win after beating England on penalties in the final.

READ ALSO: ‘Football came home’: Italy celebrates Euro 2020 victory over England

Piantedosi told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday: “We had denied permission to celebrate Italy’s victory in the European Championships on the open bus, but the pact was not respected.”

Piantedosi, who is Rome’s top public security official, said police had “no choice” but to let the parade go ahead after players Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci insisted on it.

Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

A meeting had been held on Friday with the Italian football federation (FIGC) to discuss plans for the celebrations if Italy won, said Piantedosi.

“I had agreed the line with Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Chief of Police Lamberto Giannini,” he said.

“It was clearly explained that [the parade] was not possible. We said we could not authorize it.”

Piantedosi said the Italian football federation (FIGC) initially agreed to hold a “controlled” ceremony in Rome’s central Piazza del Popolo instead of the parade.

After players insisted on the bus tour on Monday however, Piantedosi said, authorities reluctantly let them go ahead due to fears of sparking public disorder.

“At that point we had no choice but to acknowledge the situation and handle it in the best way we could,” he said.

READ ALSO: Covid cases on the rise in Europe once again as WHO warns of Euro 2020 risk

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

In a statement on Wednesday, the FIGC said it had acted responsibly but decided not to disappoint fans who had come to celebrate with the team.

Footage of large crowds thronging the bus carrying the ‘Azzurri’ and the European Championship trophy through the capital however fuelled concerns about new outbreaks of coronavirus, after Italy’s infection rate began to rise again last week.

The World Health Organization warned earlier this month that crowds and gatherings connected to football matches will fuel a new rise in cases across Europe this summer.

READ ALSO: Delta variant in Italy will be ‘prevalent within 10 days’: health official

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza also voiced concerns on Monday about the consequences of people gathering to watch sporting events.

He said the European football championship win was “a great joy after terrible months,” but “even in these moments of national pride we can’t forget that our ‘game’ to defeat Covid is not yet won.”

There are currently minimal health restrictions in place across Italy, however masks are supposed to be worn in crowded public places, including outdoors.

“Footage shows that police were virtually the only ones [in the crowd] wearing masks,” said Piantedosi.

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