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Buffon’s 22-year spell as Italy No 1 is coming to an end

Wembley, Tuesday @PeopleSports11

It was only though injury to first-choice Italy goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca that Gianluigi Buffon made his debut for the national team.

On October 1997 in snowy Moscow, a 19-year-old Buffon seized his chance off the bench replacing Pagliuca just past the hour mark as Italy battled to a 1-1 draw in a 1998 World Cup qualifier against Russia.

More than two decades on, Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to be handed a similar opportunity when he started Italy’s friendly against England at Wembley last night.

Donnarumma’s path to the Italy goalkeeping jersey has been mapped out far more clearly than Buffon’s was, having made his debut for the national side at just 17.

That debut saw an iconic changing of the guard as he replaced Buffon at half-time of Italy’s friendly against France in 2016. Buffon appears to have embraced Donnarumma as his heir apparent and the veteran joked that his namesake, 21 years his junior, ‘could be his son’.

Apologies to Italy’s third-choice Mattia Perrin. The Juventus legend has hailed the youngster’s progress as extraordinary and even touted him as his replacement at club level as well as for the national team.

But despite his comments, the 40-year-old stubbornly clung on to the Italy No 1 spot for two further years and has now amassed a remarkable 176 caps for the Azzurri.

Buffon’s international career finally looked over when he was denied a fifth World Cup at Russia 2018 as Italy crashed out in the qualification play-offs to Sweden and he retired in tears at the end of the match.

The goalkeeper’s dream had been to captain Italy to the Jules Rimet trophy in Russia at 40 just as legendary stopper Dino Zoff had done at Spain 1982. -AFP

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