Numerologists around the world have given their interpretation of the recent palindromic date 11/11/11. The same day Gianluigi Buffon played his 111th game for Italy as the Azzurri defeated Poland 2-0 in a friendly in Wroclaw. For Buffon, though, the next match will be more special.
When Italy face Uruguay in Rome on Tuesday, Buffon will move level with Dino Zoff as Italy's third most-capped player, something which makes the 33-year-old goalkeeper proud. "Only two or three years ago I started to realise that I could really catch him," Buffon said. "But when I made my Italy debut back in 1997 it was just a dream for me. Too much water needed to pass under the bridge for me to reach that historic figure.
Zoff is a real legend, I'm very proud to reach this milestone."
A FIFA World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, Buffon was just four when Zoff – 40 – lifted the trophy in 1982, 14 years after helping the Azzurri to win the UEFA European Championship, something else for the current No1 to emulate next summer in Poland and Ukraine. On Friday he announced his intent by saving a late penalty from Jakub Błaszczykowski in Wroclaw. "I was lucky to guess the right angle," the Juventus goalkeeper said. "However, I take it as a good reward because I have been working very well in the last couple of months.
"I have saved some penalties with the national team," he continued. "I did it during the 2002 World Cup and at EURO 2008. I didn't manage it at the 2006 World Cup [despite Italy winning the final against France in a shoot-out] so I hope to save some more important ones for Italy, maybe next summer."
On a night when Buffon took centre stage, there was also space in the limelight for Mario Balotelli as he scored his first goal for Italy. ''Mario played really well and not only for his goal," captain Buffon said of the Manchester City FC striker. "I'd like to praise him for the way he sacrificed for the good of the team. I think this is the main difference between a real champion and a wasted talent. He knows exactly what he has to do to earn himself the role we are eager to give him in this team."
Balotelli's performance was a boost for Cesare Prandelli due to the absence for several months of Antonio Cassano after heart surgery and Giuseppe Rossi due to a knee injury. The coach said: "Balotelli played a great game. He did exactly what we asked him to do; he is very important for Italy. Congratulations to him and to the whole team because we had the right approach. I'm especially happy because we did not concede a goal against a strong Poland side."
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