Back in the glory days of the Broad St. Bullies, an omnipresent sign at the Spectrum, home of the Philadelphia Flyers, pretty much summed up the fans’ feelings for their beloved goaltender.
“Only God saves more than Bernie Parent!” the placard blared.
Over in Italy, you can bet they feel the same way about Gianluigi Buffon.
Arguably one of the top soccer goaltenders in the world along with Brazil’s Julio Cesar and Spain’s Iker Casillas, Buffon turned in a performance for the ages during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Backstopping Italy to its first World Cup title since 1982, Buffon incredibly was beaten just two times en route to the championship. One came via an own goal from teammate Christian Zaccardo, the other was a penalty from France’s Zinedine Zidane in the final.
Think about it. In a tournament that lasts for an entire month, no opposing player was able to boot a ball past Buffon other than from the penalty spot.
Admittedly, no national side is able to defensively smother the opposition the way the Italians can, a trend they have shown time and again over the decades.
But that should not diminish the heroics turned in by the veteran Italian goaltender, whose composure in the penalty shootout that decided the 2006 World Cup title game against France was admirable.
If Italy is to repeat as champion, Buffon will have to be the glue that holds the Azzuri together. With critics claiming the Italians are too old this time around, it will be paramount that Buffon has another outstanding tournament.
Don’t bet against it happening.
Nicknamed "Superman" by fans and teammates, Buffon has been an Italian sporting icon since he made his first appearance for the national team at age 17. In 2000, Juventus paid a record 30 million Euros to snap him up from Serie A rival Parma.
In 2008, with captain Fabio Cannavaro out of the lineup due to injury, the captain’s armband was presented to Buffon. Such is the respect the Italian hierarchy holds for the veteran goaltender.
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THE BUFFON FILE
Name: Gianluigi Buffon, 32
Club Team: Juventus
International Resume: 100 caps.
Did you know?: That he wears a neckscarf pretty much in any and all conditions on the pitch, a fashion statement that has become his trademark over the years.