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Buffon's path to Portugal
Arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Gianluigi Buffon told that his top priority for this year is EURO 2004.

Friday, 06 February 2004

"I rate him as the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment," Manchester United's Ryan Giggs told Lazio's Jaap Stam added: "There are many great goalkeepers in Serie A at the moment, but for me Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus is just about the best."

The respect of his peers is one thing - the reverence of the footballing public is another, and the Italian goalkeeper also scooped a major honour when he was named in users' Team of 2003. The plaudits are welcome, but as he told, Buffon's priority for this year is EURO 2004. 

Paddy Agnew: Let's go back to the beginning of this qualifying campaign. After Italy's premature exit from the 2002 World Cup finals, how deep was the sense of disappointment in the team camp? 

Gianluigi Buffon: After the World Cup finals, we definitely had a couple of months when we were a bit lost and it looked as if the coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, was no longer in control of the situation. Yet, in the end, with no fuss and with his typical coolness, he turned things around and got a grip of the team again. 

Agnew: Obviously, those problems came home to roost when Italy were beaten 2-1 by Wales in Cardiff. With just four points from your first three games, did you begin to think that you might not qualify? 

Buffon: Certainly, at that moment we weren't thinking of winning the group, that's for sure. Frankly, it seemed that we might need a miracle to get to the finals, perhaps via the play-offs. Yet, in the end, thanks to a bit of luck and to our own bravura, having touched the very bottom, we managed to come up again and get into the finals. 

Agnew: Almost one year later at the San Siro, however, Italy gained revenge in a 4-0 win. What was the atmosphere like that night? 

Buffon: It was electric, because we were really up for that game. We knew it was an absolutely vital game for us and then more than anything we really wanted to wipe out the memory of Cardiff. Then, after a first half that finished 0-0, a first half when we had been a bit unlucky, you begin to get just a bit afraid, you begin to think to yourself that this will be one of those nights when nothing goes right. In the end, of course, it wasn't. 

Agnew: That was clearly the definitive turning point in the group? 

Buffon: Undoubtedly. After all, Wales had been on top of the group looking good, for us it was like winning away from home. 

Agnew: Many commentators feel that Italy got a good draw along with Denmark, Sweden and Bulgaria for the finals in Portugal. Do you agree? 

Buffon: Yes definitely. We're drawn with sides that can be awkward but are certainly not the strongest in the tournament. 

Agnew: Simple question, now. Can Italy win EURO 2004 and atone for that last gasp defeat by France four years ago? 

Buffon: Yes, Italy can win because this is an experienced, quality team with a strong squad and some class players, any one of whom can win a match for you at any moment. Look at Christian Vieri, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti - they are three brilliant players who not only play well together but who also put themselves at the service of the team in defence. - Paddy Agnew




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