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50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #27 Gianluigi Buffon

Gigi
Gigi Buffon
Zeeshan Ali
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 18 May 2018, 15:52 IST
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One-hundred and three minutes on the clock in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final and France are piling on the pressure to get them the goal that would bring unheralded joy to those watching back home. Zinedine Zidane, at the peak of his powers, dribbles past a few players before spraying it out wide to a team-mate and makes the dash into the box.

His run was picked out immaculately. Zizou lept into the air and - using all the muscles in his neck - powered a header curling away from the keeper, destined to nestle into the back off the net. Any other keeper in the world and France are Champions of the World in 2006. Unfortunately for Zidane and all of France, it was the imperious Gianluigi Buffon. And we know what history reflects.

Thus bringing to fruition one of the biggest upsets in recent footballing history.

For anyone who watched Italy go through the motions in the group stages, the prospects of the men in Blue looked bleak. Despite being drawn in one of the easier pools with the likes of Ghana, USA and the Czech Republic, they were always under the cosh in games even against relative minnows Australia and Ukraine in the next two knockout stages.

All through their campaign, the Italians were leaning heavily on the consistent performances of the man with number 1 on his back. That man was Gianluigi Buffon.

Let us be very clear, we'd drawn up the list of the 50 greatest footballers in the history of the biggest competition in the world - the FIFA World Cup - long before arguably the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the world decide that he was no longer going to compete at the highest levels of the game or worse, not compete at all.

How can that be though? The highest levels of the game are reserved only for the greatest. And there is little arguing that Gigi Buffon is one of the greatest of all time.

Playing his trade in a position which requires concentration and minimal, shall we say, "pizzazz", the true genius of the Italian shot-stopper can be glimpsed by the fact that the world's eyes have been fixated on him for as long as we can remember.

Plying his trade in a position that has little, scrap that, no margin for error, how the legendary Juve man has managed to hold on to the top spot, we'll never know.

Plying his trade in a position that is so often the subject of fan's untrammelled fury, why Gianluigi Buffon is looked upon with such reverence is the stuff of legends.

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Buffon is the man who makes you hate the game because he didn't win it all - with the Champions League still eluding him - but he has, however, won the biggest prize in the game. The one which even Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo haven't yet. He won the World Cup for Italy in 2006.

Dubbed as heavy underdogs, Italy managed to stage a coup of sorts in 2006. As the world was enthralled by the more attacking and flamboyant teams like Germany, Brazil and France, the Italians managed to do a job on the lot on the way to their 4th World Cup triumph.

Central to the theme of a rigid defence was the man with the gloves. Italy came through literally unscathed, defensively, as they conceded only one goal in the entire competition before the one from the spot by Zidane in the final.

That is staggering defensive stability. Just the two goals in seven matches despite coming up against both the French in the final and the free-scoring Germans in the semi-finals. When you try to look or the reasons, an ever-smiling Gigi Buffon emanates from your analysis. Although, that is a case of the numbers following the man, rather than the other way around. By which we mean that we've come to expect those kind of mind-boggling numbers when the man between the sticks is Buffon.

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He was in imperious form in the group stages, defying his fellow Juventus team-mate Pavel Nedved on numerous occasions against the Czech Republic. Essien, who is associated with long-range screamers - queue the goal at Stamford Bridge against Arsenal form all of 35-40 yards out - was denied by a sublime Buffon when Ghana lined up against the Italians.

Two terrific quick-reaction saves against the team from down under were crucial to his sides progress to the next round to face Ukraine. A tremendous save from a Gusin header to prevent the opposition from levelling things up ended with Buffon's head thudding hard against the upright.

How he reacted epitomises the values the man possesses. He got back straight up to make sure the ball was out of play before going down again to receive medical attention. Warrior.

Buffon was engulfed in divinity, and he needed to be, when he came up trumps to oust Germany in the semi-finals. Sniffing out the danger when Klose dribbled past a hapless looking Cannavaro and Gattuso or rebuffing Podolski's left-foot thunderbolts, Gigi could do no wrong between the sticks.

It's around 12 years to the day when Grosso put away Italy's last penalty to hand them the World Cup title and we're faced with the prospect of never seeing the grandest man in football with the gloves on the grandest stage of them all. We will never again witness the genius of Gigi Buffon in the World Cup, truly one of the 50 Greatest Players in World Cup History.

Published 18 May 2018, 15:52 IST
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