After helping Italy to beat Bulgaria 1-0 on Friday with an outstanding save, Gianluigi Buffon is on Tuesday set to match Fabio Cannavaro as the Azzurri's most-capped player. Cesare Prandelli's team host the Czech Republic in FIFA World Cup qualifying Group B knowing that victory will assure them of a place at next summer's finals in Brazil. Buffon will win his 136th international cap at his home ground in Turin, Juventus Stadium.
"To be honest I really thought it was in already," said Buffon of his stop to deny Bulgaria's Ivelin Popov early in the second half on Friday. Bulgaria coach Luboslav Penev added: "Italy have an immovable object in goal." To celebrate his record, UEFA.com picks out five of the 35-year-old's best saves in an Azzurri shirt.
Russia 1-1 Italy, FIFA World Cup play-offs, Moscow (29/10/1997)
A 19-year-old Buffon made his debut under Cesare Maldini as a replacement for the injured Gianluca Pagliuca in the first leg of this play-off tie. He made a number of fine saves, most eye-catchingly of all in order to keep out a Dmitri Alenichev effort from inside the penalty area which looked destined for the bottom corner. Buffon was beaten only once that night, by an own goal scored by none other than Cannavaro.
Italy 3-1 Paraguay, friendly, Parma (22/04/1998)
Buffon was once again a substitute, this time replacing Angelo Peruzzi at half-time at the Stadio Tardini, where he was plying his trade with Parma FC at the time. Italy were already 2-0 up courtesy of a diving header from Paolo Maldini and Francesco Moriero overhead kick when Buffon was again beaten by an unwitting team-mate, this time Alessandro Costacurta. Moriero added another before, in added time, Buffon produced one of his most incredible saves, diving at full stretch to thwart Hugo Brizuela's close-range attempt. The Paraguyan forward's look of shock said it all.
Italy 2-0 Germany (aet), FIFA World Cup semi-final, Dortmund (04/07/2006)
Tournament hosts Germany were viewed as favourites, but Marcello Lippi's team put on an impressive display and twice hit the woodwork during normal time. They looked destined to pay for those near-misses when Lukas Podolski had a chance to break the deadlock, but his left-footed shot – heading for the top corner – was splendidly kept out by Buffon's right hand. Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero subsequently scored the extra-time goals to secure victory for Italy.
Italy 1-1 France (aet, Italy win 5-3 on pens), FIFA World Cup final, Berlin (09/07/2006)
Buffon only conceded twice throughout the tournament: a Christian Zaccardo own goal against the United States in the group stage and Zinédine Zidane's penalty in the showpiece. Italy responded quickly thanks to a Marco Materazzi header and though France created further opportunities, Buffon was in fine form, saving his very best to palm over Zidane's bullet of a header. It was a save which took the game to penalties and ultimately led to Italy being crowned world champions for the fourth time.
Italy 1-0 Bulgaria, FIFA World Cup qualifier, Palermo 06/09/2013
After taking the lead via Alberto Gilardino's first-half header, Prandelli's charges struggled to assert themselves and Bulgaria were so nearly level soon after the break. Buffon took off in an anticipation of a shot to his right and, following a deflection, somehow managed to dive to his left in order to swipe away Popov's effort. "My saves tonight? It's just my job," Buffon said after the game. "I'm most happy that I helped my team tonight and on a few other occasions during my 135 games for Italy." Of that there is no doubt.
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