ROME. – A tearful Gianluigi Buffon called time on his 175-cap international career in the moments following the confirmation of Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup soccer finals for the first time in 60 years. Four-time champions Italy have failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after a play-off defeat against Sweden. It means the Azzurri will not be present in the competition for only the second time in their history having declined to play at the inaugural tournament in 1930.Buffon said the Italian national team had failed the country by not qualifying for the World Cup. An international career that began two decades ago in a Moscow blizzard ended with the even greater chill of failure for Buffon after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup next year. The keeper looked emotional during the national anthems as Sweden ground out a 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Monday night to take them through to Russia.
The 39-year-old Juventus goalkeeper, who made his Italy debut in October 1997, kept a clean sheet but his outfield team-mates failed to score the goals that could have overturned the Scandinavians’ 1-0 advantage in the two-legged European play-off. Buffon had already decided to hang up his Azzurri gloves after Russia 2018 and, with that opportunity stripped from him seven months before the tournament, he is taking his leave early. The keeper had said he would retire after the World Cup at the end of this season – but not if Juventus win the Champions League. He said after the game: “I’m not sorry for myself but all of Italian football. We failed at something which also means something on a social level. There’s regret at finishing like that, not because time passes.”
He added: “We have pride, strength and we’re stubborn. We know how to get back up again as we’ve always done. I’m leaving an Italy side that will know how to speak for itself.
“Hugs to everyone, especially those I’ve shared this wonderful journey with.” Italy, who last failed to qualify in 1958, have won the World Cup four times, most recently in 2006. Even though it seems he’s played his last game – unless he agrees to a farewell friendly later in the year – he applauded the Swedish national anthem. The 39-year-old Italy international was named the best goalkeeper at the best FIFA Football Awards 2017 in London only a few months ago. But in an interview with Sky Italia the Italy and Juve keeper says he will quit at the end of the term, with his international side losing to 1-0 on aggregate Sweden in the play-offs. mHowever if Juventus manage to claim the Champions League he wants to stay on for a crack at the Club World Cup.
“There’s no margin (to change mind) because I’m quite convinced of the choices I’ve made,’’ Buffon told the channel. This is my last season and I’m pretty sure of the choices I make. One or two more years wouldn’t add or take away from what I’ve already achieved. The only way would be to win the Champions League. At that point, to try to win the Club World Cup.” Buffon picked up his eighth Serie A title with Juventus in 2016/17 and also helped them to the Champions League final, where they were beaten by Real Madrid. That led the Juventus man beat off competition from the likes of Real Madrid stopper Keylor Navas and Bayern Munich Manuel Neuer for the award.
“I am very happy because this is a great award to win at my age,” said the 39-year-old.
“I am proud of it. I say thanks to my club, coach and teammates because they make it possible. The last year has been fantastic for Juventus and me but it wasn’t enough to win in Europe. Hopefully this year we can play better and win with the national team and Juventus. I would love to finish football with fantastic victories.”
And that finish looks like it will be soon, even though some fans don’t want the Italian legend to hang up his gloves just yet. He has claimed a World Cup winners medal, but has never tasted glory in the Champions League, despite nearly 500 matches for Juventus.
The 6ft 3in stopper also played 168 games for his first club Parma and boasts an amazing 173 caps for Italy, which he hopes to add to in next summer’s World Cup finals. He has been named Serie A goalkeeper of the year 11 times and won the 2006 Lev Yashin Award following Italy’s win in the World Cup. He is also the only goalkeeper to have won the Uefa Footballer of the Year in 2003. – The Mirror.