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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 23 August, 2019

Exchange between Buffon and Rakitic illustrates Italian legend's popularity

The pair met in last night’s Champions League clash between Juventus and Barcelona.

Italy: FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off - Italy vs Sweden Gigi Buffon is consoled by Sweden's Victor Lindelof after Italy's failure to qualify for the World Cup. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

IN THIS NECK of the woods we were focused on Ireland’s 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Denmark, but there’s no doubt that the biggest story which emerged from last week’s World Cup play-offs was Italy’s failure to qualify for the tournament for the first time in 60 years.

It meant that veteran Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, who was reduced to tears in the aftermath of their defeat to Sweden, was denied the opportunity to feature at his sixth World Cup when the tournament takes place in Russia next summer.

It was an unhappy ending to a decorated international career which yielded 175 caps and a World Cup winners medal in 2006 for the 39-year-old Juventus stopper, who has now retired from duty with his country.

Such is the esteem in which Buffon is held in world football that on the eve of last night’s goalless Champions League draw between Juve and Barcelona, Barca’s Ivan Rakitic suggested in jest that the Italian legend could take his place at the 2018 World Cup.

(SP)CROATIA-ZAGREB-SOCCER-FIFA WORLD CUP-EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS PLAYOFF-CROATIA VS GREECE Rakitic is heading to the 2018 World Cup after Croatia overcame Greece in the play-offs. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

The Croatian international told reporters: “I would like to tell Buffon to go in my place because what he’s done for football is incredible, simply unique.

“When a child writes out his ideal line-up, Buffon is always in there. I can’t explain what it’s like to see him at the end of a game in that shape and to stand next to him. It’s a shame he isn’t able to finish his career at another World Cup and I’d honestly love to give him that opportunity.

“It’s difficult to stay out of a tournament like that. When you saw him crying in the interview at the end of the match [against Sweden], you wanted to cry with him.”

Buffon got wind of Rakitic’s comments and responded to him before the game via Twitter. As well as promising to give his opponent his shirt afterwards, Buffon said:

As a goalkeeper I might still play but playing for Croatia as a midfielder in your place might not be a great idea. I am saying it for your good sake. Joking apart, your words have been a great gift.

The pair embraced after last night’s game in Turin, with Rakitic tweeting afterwards: “Proud to compete against you. I wish you all the best. A big hug. A pleasure to play against Gianluigi Buffon. Idol.”

“This is only a point tonight, but it’s a good point,” Buffon tweeted. “It’s always a pleasure and an honour to play against great champions, like Ivan Rakitic.”

Having already vowed to give Rakitic his shirt, Buffon instead gave his shorts away to a Juventus supporter after the game.

Juventus v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League - Group D - Juventus Stadium Source: Steven Paston

Juventus v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League - Group D - Juventus Stadium Source: Steven Paston

Source: INCH IK/YouTube

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