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Saturday 10 December 2016

'Dark clouds' gone for Gigi

Gian luigi Buffon. Photo: AP
Gian luigi Buffon. Photo: AP

The good news for Ireland ahead of tonight's game in Lille is that their legendary goalkeeper is still waiting to shake off the effects of a dose of flu and their manager says he will make seven changes to his side, to give squad players a run-out as the Italians are already assured of a place in the last 16.

The bad news is that their fringe players appear to be anything but, and keeper Gianluigi Buffon feels that this current squad is on a par with any panel he's been involved with in eight major tournaments, including the 2006 World Cup finals which the Italians of course won.

'Gigi' Buffon will be rested for tonight's game against Ireland, his replacement a pretty handy understudy in the form of Salvatore Sirigu, a man who earns his (considerably large) crust here in France as he's Paris St Germain's first choice goalkeeper.

Sirgiu and a batch of other players, who have been spectators for Euro 2016 to date, will get a runout and Buffon, who made his debut international debut in 1997, says he's very impressed with what surrounds him in training every day.

"Although we haven't won anything yet it's quite similar to 2006," he said yesterday. "Even with the [Euro] 2012 squad, and the bronze medal we got in the Confederations Cup in 2013, all of that came down to the strength of our squad and how we really shared every single situation on and off the field."

He's aware that Italy's good start to Euro 2016 has taken others by surprise, but not the 38-year-old.

"There were pretty dark clouds hanging over our chances to begin with. Everyone was saying we would be returning home very quickly. Thankfully that didn't come to pass," he says.

"That means that we really have seen all 23 players who have shown their pride. We have tried to just have simply one way of thinking, one way of working; to try and give everything to surprise and amaze people."

Perhaps Buffon was thinking of his duties at yesterday's press conference as a day off, as he managed to go through the entire event without managing Ireland once, although when you have won the World Cup, Serie A, the UEFA Cup and hold runner-up medals in the Champions League and the European Championships, Ireland may seem like small potatoes.

But he does hope to see more of the same from his side when they do play tonight.

"If we fall short with certain characteristics, elements, we could be in danger of stepping backwards. We can't afford for that to happen. We are well aware of what we had to put in to get to this stage and we have to keep doing that if we want to continue to progress," added the Juventus Number One.

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