path to Portugal
Arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, Gianluigi Buffon
told that his top priority for this year is EURO 2004.
rate him as the best goalkeeper in the world at the
moment," Manchester United's Ryan Giggs told uefa.com.
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 uefa.com users'
Team of 2003. The plaudits are welcome, but as he told
uefa.com, Buffon's priority for this year is EURO 2004.
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?
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
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
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.
Almost one year later at the San Siro, however, Italy gained
revenge in a 4-0 win. What was the atmosphere like that night?
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
was clearly the definitive turning point in the group?
Undoubtedly. After all, Wales had been on top of the group
looking good, for us it was like winning away from home.
Many commentators feel that Italy got a good draw along with
Denmark, Sweden and Bulgaria for the finals in Portugal. Do
Yes definitely. We're drawn with sides that can be awkward but
are certainly not the strongest in the tournament.
question, now. Can Italy win EURO 2004 and atone for that last
gasp defeat by France four years ago?
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