6 – Gianluigi Buffon
In the long and illustrious list of great Italian goalkeepers, from Enrico Albertosi and Gianluca Pagliuca to Walter Zenga and Angelo Peruzzi, two names normally stand out in debates as to who deserves the title of the best – Dino Zoff and Gianluigi Buffon. We choose to favour the contemporary in our list not as a consequence of abstract technical considerations but simply by a direct comparison of World Cup performances. Zoff conceded a total of six goals in seven matches when he won the trophy in 1982. Buffon’s net was breached only twice – once by an own-goal and once by a penalty, meaning that the only way for a rival team to beat the Italian giant over that tournament was to hope for a defensive blooper. Even allowing for the fact that Buffon was surrounded by a better defence (one of Italy’s best, in fact), it is hard to think that any keeper could have given his box a sense of such overwhelming security as Buffon did in 2006.
When it comes to discussing the man’s technical qualities, the difficulty consists in finding anything to say outside of unqualified praise. Buffon’s sense of positioning is flawless – his speed and athleticism are excellent and quite unusual for a man of such prominent stature – and his reflexes, as evidenced by any overview of his one-hand saves, are absolutely sensational. Indeed from a purely technical point of view we do not hesitate to say that Buffon is not only the greatest of Italian goalkeepers, but one of the best ever to have played for any nation. The IFFHS offers some support to this by having awarded him the title of Best Goalkeeper in Football History since 1987 – perhaps an obliged title, considering that from 2003 onwards he had won their prize for Best Goalkeeper in the World an extraordinary five times in seven years. Also worthy of mention is the award as Best Player in the Champions League for the 2002/03 edition, if only because in more than 50 years of the tournament’s history Buffon is the only keeper ever to have won it.
Someone once said that when myths clash, the confrontation is terrifyingly real. On July 9, 2006 Buffon stepped between the posts to defend his goal from the swan-song of the greatest legend ever to have donned the French shirt – the azure dragon of Zinedine Zidane. That tournament seemed to have been tailor-made for the man, and when, in the breathless folds of extra-time, his header was hurled towards a distant corner of the goal, it was as though Destiny itself had branded the name ‘Zidane’ upon the ball. Buffon’s impossible one-handed save on that occasion brings him down in history not as the keeper who won the fourth World Cup, but as the hand that bent the line of Destiny.
Top 20 Azzurri players of all time