As he prepared for his side's UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final against England, Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon sat down with UEFA.com to reveal why he believes Sunday's match will be a close-run affair, why he likes penalty shoot-outs and why he sings the Italian national anthem with such vigour.
UEFA.com: Six years ago you won the FIFA World Cup. Do you have a feeling that you could be on the way to another big success?
Gianluigi Buffon: It's a nice squad, we are all united for the same cause, but it's also true to say that for the last four years there has been a side that is considerably better than the rest, and that's Spain. So in my opinion they are certainly favourites. Italy, though, are very hard to beat.
UEFA.com: You play England next. What are their strengths?
Buffon: England have always had players of great individual ability. They have not managed to win anything major in recent years, sometimes through bad luck; they have been knocked out in penalty shoot-outs a few times, but this year I think they have three or four world-class talents like [John] Terry, [Ashley] Cole, [Wayne] Rooney, [Steven] Gerrard, and we respect them a lot and know it will be a very hard match.
UEFA.com: What sort of match are you expecting against England?
Buffon: It will certainly be close because the sides have very similar qualities, and also because Italy have a habit, which is both a pro and a con, that whoever we play – whether our opponents are strong or weak – it's always an even contest. If we play against the best, we match them, but if we play against weak sides we never manage to win with ease. We always have to struggle a bit, so I think the difference between the two sides will be very, very, very, subtle indeed.
UEFA.com: Why do you think Italy have this problem?
Buffon: It's only a problem against weaker sides, but when you play in the World Cup or the EURO, you're always playing the best sides, so then it's no problem.
UEFA.com: In England, they are already talking about the possibility of a penalty shoot-out. Are you prepared for that?
Buffon: When you think too far ahead about how a match might end up, it never pans out that way, and it normally ends sooner. But penalties are a normal part of football, and there is merit to the shoot-out system. Penalties bring technique, character and nerve into play, so it rewards the ones who really deserve, and have the strength, to win the match.
UEFA.com: Former England No1 David Seaman used to say that he enjoyed shoot-outs because it was a chance for a goalkeeper to become a hero.
Buffon: It all depends on your outlook. If I were to lose on penalties I would be very disappointed and I would feel guilty because in the end it would be a chance wasted. But it is also true that perhaps it's the only moment in a goalkeeper's career when your responsibilities are taken away from you.
UEFA.com: How do you rate England goalkeeper Joe Hart?
Buffon: Hart, along with [Manuel] Neuer, [Hugo] Lloris and our own [Salvatore] Sirigu, is no longer just an emerging goalkeeper, but is now established as someone who always plays well and can be a determining factor for his team. He deserves my compliments.
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