Gianluigi Buffon

Gianluigi Buffon

Grazie Gigi: Buffon bows out the same way as he played – by uniting a nation

Twenty years after Gianluigi Buffon made his debut for Italy in a World Cup play-off, one of the most extraordinary careers in international football drew to a close in another.

It was poignant in a way that Sweden were the opponents. Dino Zoff, the only No.1 to rival Buffon in Italian goalkeeping lore, also played the last game of his international career against them in 1983.

Buffon had hoped to emulate Zoff and win a World Cup in his 40s. Alas it wasn’t to be. His dream of becoming the first ever player to represent his country at six World Cups also went up in smoke. But it’s a measure of Buffon’s greatness that even his association with an event as traumatic as Italy missing out on the tournament for the first time in 60 years does nothing to tarnish his remarkable career.