Buffon quits as Italy suffer World Cup exit - Saudi Gazette

Buffon quits as Italy suffer World Cup exit

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Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, left, and Manolo Gabbiadini react to their team's elimination in the World Cup qualifying playoff second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy, Monday. — AP

MILAN — A tearful Gianluigi Buffon quit international football as four-time champions Italy sensationally missed out on their first World Cup finals in 60 years after a playoff defeat to Sweden.

Coach Gian Piero Ventura also said he would consider his future after the Azzuri drew 0-0 on Monday in the second leg of their tie with Sweden, who qualified 1-0 on aggregate.

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.

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 teammate 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 No. 1 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.

Distraught Italian fans reacted with shock and disbelief while the Italian press called it an "apocalypse" for the team, who last failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup and have played every other edition apart from the inaugural tournament in 1930.

But Ventura made no announcement about his position despite failing to lead the 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006 winners to their 19th World Cup. The former Torino coach said he would first talk to the Italian federation president before making a decision on his future.

"Resign? I don't know. I have to evaluate an infinity of things. I have not yet spoken to the president," said Ventura. "It doesn't depend on me, I'm not in the state of mind to face this question."

"It's a very heavy result to bear, because I was absolutely convinced that we had this ferocious desire to overcome the obstacle."

Italian fans were struggling to come to terms with the prospect of a World Cup without their national team.

"It is really very sad because watching the World Cup was something that really brought us together as Italians," said recent graduate Stefania Pusateri, heading for the exit after watching the match in a Rome club.

"But what is sure is that the shock will be even worse for my father. He is 54 years old and he has never had to go through something like this."

Another Rome resident Enrico Doddi summed up the national disappointment, saying: "You cannot have a good World Cup without Italy."

The game at Milan's San Siro stadium witnessed a generational shift for Italy, with Buffon and fellow 2006 veterans Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi all quitting the team, while Giorgio Chiellini also hung up his Azzurri jersey.

"The era of four or five veterans comes to a close, the one of the hungry young players coming through begins and that's how it should be," said Ventura, who took over from Chelsea coach Antonio Conte in 2016 with a contract until June 2020.

Italy dominated possession but struggled to create enough clear-cut chances, as Sweden secured a first appearance at the finals since 2006 courtesy of Jakob Johansson's first-leg strike in Stockholm.

Ventura had made changes from Friday's defeat with Brazil-born Jorginho making his Italy debut and Alessandro Florenzi and Manolo Gabbiadini also handed starts, although Napoli's in-form winger Lorenzo Insigne was again left on the bench.

As the clock ticked down, De Rossi was asked by Ventura to warm up but he pointed at Insigne instead. "I just said we were near the end and had to win, so send the strikers to warm up," said De Rossi. "I pointed to Insigne too. I just thought perhaps it was better that Insigne come on instead."

Buffon even came up for two corners in a final desperate gamble but Italy fell desperately short, leading to damning headlines in the Italian press. — AFP


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