Gianluigi Buffon has called time on his second spell at Juventus, concluding a defining playing association with the Serie A giants.

There may only be three clubs on the goalkeeping great's resume but sustained excellence over more than two decades has filled his trophy cabinet with individual and team honours. 

The former Parma prodigy has rubbed shoulders with the very best in world football throughout that time, forming part of Serie A, Ligue 1 and World Cup-winning sides.

In honour of Buffon's stellar career, we have compiled a star-studded group of former team-mates for a dream XI.

 

GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Who else has the pedigree to don the gloves in such a side?

A five-time member of the UEFA Team of the Year, he boasts more Serie A clean sheets than any other player and, as captain of his country from 2010 until his retirement in 2018, would have no trouble bringing this team together.

RIGHT-BACK: LILIAN THURAM

Having been joined by Buffon at Parma after his switch from Monaco in 1996, Thuram followed his team-mate in making the move to Turin ahead of the 2001-02 campaign.

The 142-time France international, part of the side that tasted glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and won Euro 2000, spent five seasons at Juve before rounding out his career with a spell at Barcelona.

CENTRE-BACK: FABIO CANNAVARO

Buffon's inheritance of the Italy armband from Cannavaro in 2010 completed the striking symmetry of their careers.

They both made their Parma debuts in 1995, did the same for Italy in 1997 and were reunited at club level when Cannavaro, one of few defenders to win the Ballon d'Or, joined Juve in 2004. They also lifted the World Cup together in 2006.

CENTRE-BACK: ALESSANDRO NESTA

A long-time rival at club level, Nesta was part of the famous Milan defence that beat Juve in the 2002-03 Champions League final – he scored his penalty against Buffon in a 3-2 shoot-out victory – and triumphed again four seasons later.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2000, which Buffon missed through injury, but the 2006 World Cup success will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career.

LEFT-BACK: PAOLO MALDINI

With admirable longevity, loyalty and leadership, classy defender Maldini set the path that Buffon has so impressively followed.

The long-time Rossoneri skipper, a seven-time Scudetto winner who also lifted the European Cup on five occasions, Maldini was the only player to have managed more Serie A appearances than the veteran keeper until his Juve return.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: ANDREA PIRLO

Has there been a more iconic duo of the modern era?

Pirlo was already at the top by the time he swapped Milan for Juve, but he saved plenty of his play-making brilliance for Buffon and friends as the Bianconeri re-asserted themselves as Italy's top club with a run of successive Scudetti that stretched to nine before being ended by Inter this season as their reunion as player and head coach did not yield similar results.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: PAVEL NEDVED

Nedved's blend of athleticism, tenacity and well-rounded technical ability made him close to the complete midfielder.

He helped Czech Republic to the final of Euro 1996 and his value to Juve was summed up by a Ballon d'Or victory in 2003.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ROBERTO BAGGIO

Less than two years after a 17-year-old Buffon held Baggio and Milan scoreless on his senior debut for Parma, the pair were sharing the same shirt for Italy.

Two of the Azzurri's greatest were in the same squad at the 1998 World Cup, although Buffon would ultimately go one better than the 1993 Ballon d'Or winner, who suffered final heartache against Brazil at USA 94.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

He stands as an equal in the pantheon of Juve luminaries.

Buffon and the majestic Del Piero combined to help the Bianconeri finish top of Serie A on five occasions, while they lined up for Italy together for over a decade and experienced World Cup glory together

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo joined Juve as Buffon embarked upon his hiatus with Paris Saint-Germain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was supposed to add Champions League glory to domestic dominance and now Juventus have neither.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo's individual form has remained imperious. In 127 appearances for the Bianconceri, he has 97 goals at a rate of a goal every 113 minutes.

FORWARD: KYLIAN MBAPPE

They were only together for a year but the France phenomenon is a performer to compare with many of the greats to have shared a dressing room with Buffon.

Fresh from 2018 World Cup success with France, Mbappe scored 39 goals in 43 appearances for PSG in 2018-19, averaging 90.25 minutes per goal and boasting a shot conversion rate of 22 per cent.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus but the Italy great says he might not be ready to retire.

The 43-year-old returned to Juve in 2019 following a season away at Paris Saint-Germain and has been second choice to Wojciech Szczesny since.

Buffon's announcement on Tuesday arguably did not come as a surprise; however, the fact he is still contemplating playing on may have raised some eyebrows.

If he does continue his playing career, whoever his next employers are will certainly be able to count on plenty of experience and knowhow.

Buffon is one of the sport's few stars who have played top-level football into their fifth decade.

Here are seven other legends who set an example for Buffon to follow with their remarkably long careers in the game.

 

RYAN GIGGS

The ultimate one-club man, Ryan Giggs stayed at Manchester United for the entirety of his glittering career. He managed to slowly transform himself from a rapid, tricky winger into a cultured central midfielder in the latter years of his playing days, helping to extend his time on the pitch beyond the age of 40. Giggs won an extraordinary haul of medals at Old Trafford, including 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a pair of Champions League crowns. He played in 632 Premier League games, scoring 109 goals, with only Gareth Barry topping his appearance tally. Giggs worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at United, having taken charge on an interim basis following the sacking of David Moyes, before going on to take charge of his country in 2018. He has been temporarily replaced as Wales boss after he was charged with assaulting two women last year, allegations that Giggs denies.

PAOLO MALDINI

Paolo Maldini was still going strong for Milan beyond his 40th birthday and, like Giggs, he only ever played for one club. Seven league titles and an incredible five European Cup/Champions League wins headline a litany of honours that Maldini helped marshal at San Siro, playing across their near impenetrable back four for almost 25 years. Maldini, son of another Milan legend, Cesare, is one of a select group of players who made over 1,000 appearances in all competitions during their career. Today, the former Italy man is back at Milan, acting as their technical director.

KAZUYOSHI MIURA

Kazuyoshi Miura is still playing, at the age of 54. That the Japanese striker made his debut almost 10 years before Buffon begins to tell part of his incredible tale. Known as King Kazu, Miura plays for Yokohama FC in Japan's top flight, becoming the club's oldest ever player at 53 in September last year. The oldest player and goalscorer in the history of global professional football, Miura is regarded as one of the finest Asian players never to have featured at a World Cup, although he made 89 appearances for his country.

 

STANLEY MATTHEWS

Before Miura snatched them off him, Stanley Matthews held the records for being both the oldest professional footballer and the oldest goalscorer in the game. Matthews - the Wizard of Dribble - made nearly 700 league appearances for Stoke City and Blackpool in a career that spanned three decades. The 1953 FA Cup final is regarded as the Matthews Final, even though Blackpool's Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick. Matthews won the first European Footballer of the Year award, while he was officially capped for England 54 times, although he also played a host of unofficial wartime games for his country.

DINO ZOFF

Goalkeepers often play deep into their thirties, but not many captain their country to World Cup glory at the age of 40. But that is exactly what Dino Zoff did at the World Cup in 1982. He made 40 appearances in World Cup finals and qualifiers in total, while as a coach he led Italy to the final of Euro 2000. It must be something about Juventus, as Buffon's current club is also where Zoff spent the best years of his career, winning six Serie A titles.

RIVALDO

Best known for his spell at Barcelona in club football, Brazil great Rivaldo was still playing beyond his 40th birthday, albeit only briefly. Rivaldo came out of retirement to sign for Mogi Mirim, the club where his son Rivaldinho was also on the books. Rivaldo picked up two LaLiga titles at Barcelona before continuing his European adventure with Milan, winning the 2002–03 Champions League with the Rossoneri. But it is as a Brazil international that Rivaldo is best remembered, having been a key part of the side that won the World Cup in 2002.

 

ROGER MILLA

Roger Milla became the World Cup's oldest scorer when he hit the net for Cameroon in 1994 at the age of 42, having announced himself at the same tournament four years previously with his famous corner-flag dance. Milla's four goals at the 1990 World Cup helped Cameroon to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament and he is fondly regarded as one of Africa's greatest ever players. Remarkably, Milla regained the African Footballer of the Year title 14 years after he first won the award.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus at the end of the season but he is yet to decide if retirement beckons.

The 43-year-old re-joined the club two years ago having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, but he feels the two parties have reached the "end of a cycle".

Over the course of his second spell in Turin, Buffon has been second choice to Wojciech Szczesny, playing 16 times in Serie A since the start of 2019-20.

He won his 11th league title last term, but under the guidance of his former team-mate Andrea Pirlo, 2020-21 has been a drag for the Bianconeri, who sit fifth in the table with three games to go – Inter have already claimed the Scudetto.

Now he feels it is time to move on again, though he has not come to a decision as to what comes next.

"My future is clear and outlined. This year this beautiful and very long experience with Juve will end in a definitive way," Buffon told beIN Sports.

"Either I stop playing or if I find a situation that gives me incentives to play or have a different life experience, I take it into consideration.

"I think I gave everything for Juve. I have received everything and more than this cannot be done. We have reached the end of a cycle and it is right for me to remove the disturbance [by confirming his exit early]."

As for what has gone wrong for Juve this season, Buffon accepts there are concerns regarding the team's mentality.

"We lacked continuity. In the end, in the games we played against the top five or six teams we often won, drew and sometimes lost, but we have always played those games evenly.

"Instead, we lost stupid points against the less-famous teams. This means that you are a team that has yet to grow in character."

Juventus are reportedly chasing Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma for next season, with the Italy international set to become a free agent.

As for Buffon, his first club Parma will likely be mentioned as a potential destination despite their relegation to Serie B.

Buffon came through Parma's academy in the early 1990s and went on to play over 200 games for them across all competitions before Juve made him the world's most expensive goalkeeper at the time in 2001, costing in the region of €52million.

During his six years in the Parma senior team, he helped them win the Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup and Supercoppa Italiana.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus at the end of the season but he is yet to decide if retirement beckons.

The 43-year-old re-joined the club two years ago having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, but he feels the two parties have reached the "end of a cycle".

Over the course of his second spell in Turin, Buffon has been second choice to Wojciech Szczesny, playing 16 times in Serie A since the start of 2019-20.

He won his 11th league title last term, but under the guidance of his former team-mate Andrea Pirlo, 2020-21 has been a drag for the Bianconeri, who sit fifth in the table with three games to go – Inter have already claimed the Scudetto.

Now he feels it is time to move on again, though he has not come to a decision as to what comes next.

Gianluigi Buffon proved his worth to Juventus in their vital win at Napoli on Wednesday, but Andrea Pirlo will restore Wojciech Szczesny as his first-choice goalkeeper.

World Cup winner Buffon, now 43, is firmly behind Szczesny in the pecking order in Turin, yet he was given a rare opportunity for the huge midweek Serie A match.

The veteran, who returned to the club from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019, made three saves as strikes from team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala set the Bianconeri on their way to victory.

Only a 90th-minute Lorenzo Insigne penalty denied Buffon a clean sheet as Juve moved three points clear of their opponents, who sit in fifth - just outside the Champions League places.

But Buffon should not expect to reprise this starting role on a regular basis, despite Szczesny committing an error leading to a goal in the weekend draw with city rivals Torino.

"I had already spoken to the lad [Szczesny]," said Pirlo, who had suggested earlier in the week Szczesny would play.

"He was already tired when he was back from the national team because he had played three games in a row, so he needed some mental rest and to recover his energy.

"It was already in my mind to have Gigi play, but [Szczesny] remains the main goalkeeper of Juventus."

 

Even besides the mishap against Torino, Buffon's output since returning to Juve has been more than a match for the number one.

Among goalkeepers in Europe's 'top five' leagues to play 25 games or more in all competitions since the start of last season, Buffon's save rate of 80.2 per cent trails only Sevilla's Yassine Bounou.

None of these keepers have conceded fewer goals than Buffon (18), while again Bounou is the only man conceding fewer goals per game (0.7 for Buffon).

With 11 clean sheets in 26 outings, he ranks ninth for clean sheet percentage (42).

Meanwhile, discounting penalties and own goals, Buffon has conceded 14 times over the past two seasons despite having an expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded total of 17.1, meaning he has prevented 3.1 goals.

This season alone, among goalkeepers to play 10 times or more, Buffon again ranks second for save percentage, his 81.8 this time trailing Sergio Rico.

 

Across the past two campaigns, Szczesny has saved 72.7 per cent of shots he has faced, but has conceded on average 1.1 goals per game and collected a clean sheet in just 31 per cent of his appearances.

He has prevented 7.7 goals - with a 66.7 xGOT conceded versus 59 non-penalty goals - albeit having played 68 matches, 42 more than Buffon.

In 2020-21, Szczesny has conceded a goal per game and kept out 71.3 per cent of shots on his goal.

With Buffon set to again lose his place despite remaining at the forefront of the European game, it would support Gianluca Pagliuca's suggestion the Juve great should have retired rather than return to Turin to sit on the bench.

Pagliuca told Stats Perform News: "If I was him, I have already retired. I would have retired after PSG. It was a good idea to go to Paris because it's a big club and he was playing regularly.

"Buffon on the bench? Happy to play only in Coppa Italia? It's not great.

"Someone with his career, it's better to retire when you are 41 and you are still playing than having a couple of years on the bench. He is still a really good goalkeeper.

"The best thing was to retire after PSG, considering his career. Maybe he still wants to compete. However, we have to think he's been the best goalkeeper in the football history."

Gianluigi Buffon is "the best goalkeeper in the football history" but should have retired after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, according to Gianluca Pagliuca.

Italy great Buffon has appeared only five times in Serie A so far for Juventus this season.

Indeed, the 43-year-old has featured in just 25 matches in all competitions since returning to Turin in 2019, keeping 11 clean sheets and conceding a meagre 17 goals.

Buffon's save percentage of 80.5 per cent ranks second among goalkeepers in Europe's 'top five' leagues to start 25 games in the past two seasons, but he is very much playing second fiddle to Wojciech Szczesny (72.8 per cent), who has had 67 Juve outings over that time.

The legendary Buffon played on 25 occasions in a single season with PSG and ex-Italy goalkeeper Pagliuca feels he should have called time on his career following his spell in the French capital.

"If I was him, I have already retired," Pagliuca told Stats Perform News. "I would have retired after PSG.

"It was a good idea to go to Paris because it's a big club and he was playing regularly.

"Buffon on the bench? Happy to play only in Coppa Italia? It's not great.

"Someone with his career, it's better to retire when you are 41 and you are still playing than having a couple of years on the bench. He is still a really good goalkeeper.

"The best thing was to retire after PSG, considering his career. Maybe he still wants to compete.

"However, we have to think he's been the best goalkeeper in the football history."

Montpellier centre-back Hilton, also aged 43, is the only player older than Buffon to appear for a club in Europe's 'top five' leagues this season.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been suspended for one match for using a "blasphemous expression" during Juventus' 4-0 win at Parma in December.

The 43-year-old was caught on camera committing the offence when shouting instructions to team-mate Manolo Portanova.

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) opened disciplinary proceedings against Buffon earlier this year and he was fined €5,000 by the governing body last month.

It was announced on Tuesday that the veteran shot-stopper will also serve a one-game ban - against local rivals Torino in Serie A on Saturday - after the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the appeal of the Federal Prosecutor.

Buffon has served as back-up to Wojciech Szczesny since returning to Turin from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 and has made 10 appearances in all competitions this season.

 

Timo Werner only joined Chelsea at the start of the season, but could he leave Stamford Bridge?

Premier League giants Chelsea are among the clubs interested in Erling Haaland.

But reports claim Chelsea are not prepared to sanction a Werner exit.

 

TOP STORY – NO CHELSEA EXIT FOR WERNER

Chelsea are not planning on selling Timo Werner as they eye Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to Telegraph.

Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea have been heavily linked with Haaland, who is also being targeted by Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

But Chelsea are against the idea of parting with Werner or using the German forward in a deal to prise Haaland to Stamford Bridge after one season in London.

 

ROUND-UP

Barca are eyeing a move for Sergio Aguero after City announced their all-time leading goalscorer will leave the club on a free transfer at season's end, claims Fabrizio Romano. Inter, Chelsea and PSG have also been linked.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Kalidou Koulibaly is likely to leave Napoli at the end of the season. Koulibaly has been linked with United, PSG and Bayern Munich previously.

- While a Koulibaly departure is on the cards, could legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon arrive? Gazzetta dello Sport claims Napoli are interested in the Juventus great, who is searching for regular football.

Cristiano Ronaldo will decide his future before May, according to Tuttosport. The Juventus superstar has been linked with former clubs Madrid and United, as well as PSG.

- Fiorentina's Dusan Vlahovic, Torino captain Andrea Belotti, PSV's Donyell Malen, AZ's Myron Boadu and Celtic star Odsonne Edouard are on Milan's shortlist of strikers in the transfer window, reports Calciomercato.

- The Athletic and other outlets claim Liverpool are nearing a deal to sign RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. Leipzig sporting director Markus Krosche played down the possible transfer in an interview with Stats Perform News.

Real Madrid are hatching a plan to land former star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Los Blancos' transfer priorities this upcoming off-season appear to be Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Madrid's financial might but Ronaldo remains on their radar.

 

TOP STORY - REAL PLOT 'SYMBOLIC PRICE' FOR RONALDO

Real Madrid are considering a one-year contract for Cristiano Ronaldo for a "symbolic price", according to Cuatro.

The 36-year-old appears set to leave Juventus in the off-season after three years in Turin.

Madrid have reportedly started working on an economic plan to land Ronaldo should their other priorities not eventuate.

ROUND-UP

- Le10Sport claims that Paris Saint-Germain are set to agree terms with Brazilian superstar Neymar on a fresh deal which would secure his signature until 2026.

- Manchester United's Diogo Dalot is keen to make his loan stay at Milan permanent, according to Todo Fichajes.

- Todo Fichajes is also reporting that 43-year-old Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is looking to finish his career at Parma.

Juventus are monitoring Paul Pogba's contract situation at Manchester United amid talk of a move, according to Calciomercato.

- GiveMeSport claims Leicester City will make an eight-figure bid for Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard with their interest in him previously well known.

Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world's best defenders.

Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.

His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club's youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.

Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.

Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United - linked again more recently - have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world's best defender.

"Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United]," De Ligt told the Telegraph.

"It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus."

While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.

Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.

His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.

"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he continued. "I'm where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.

"I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm."

Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.

He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero's record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.

"Well, he could be my father!" De Ligt quipped. "It's funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don't think he's twice my age and that's also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old."

Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has reached the notable milestone of 200 Serie A appearances, shattering a record in the process.  

Donnarumma made it to his double century when starting in the derby against Inter on Sunday, with San Siro hosting a pivotal battle between the top two in the table.  

At 21 years and 361 days, the Italy international is comfortably the youngest to achieve the feat in the competition since the switch to three points for a win in 1994-95.

The great Gianluigi Buffon (24 years and 83 days) previously held the record.  

Donnarumma was handed his league debut at 16 by then-Milan boss Sinisa Mihajlovic in October 2015. He has saved 73.09 per cent of the shots faced during his career in the Italian top flight, as well as also keeping out eight penalties.  

When compared to fellow keepers who have played in at least 10 Serie A games this season, only Lukasz Skorupski (73.26) at Bologna and Genoa's Mattia Perin (72.41) can better Donnarumma's save percentage of 72.15. 

However, his long-term future at Milan still remains unclear. Head coach Stefano Pioli recently said he remains confident the player will reach an agreement over a new deal before his current terms expire in June.

The 174th Milan derby in Serie A saw the rivals go into the contest occupying the top two spots in the standings for the first time since April 2011. The Rossoneri won 3-0 on that occasion and went on to finish the season as champions. 

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has been fined €5,000 but avoided a suspension after using a "blasphemous expression" during Juventus' 4-0 win at Parma in December.

The 43-year-old was caught on camera committing the offence when shouting instructions to team-mate Manolo Portanova.

The FIGC opened disciplinary proceedings against Buffon and the veteran keeper risked a one-man ban for his comment.

However, the National Federal Court only "partially accepted" the FIGC's referral at Thursday's hearing and former Italy international Buffon escaped with just a fine.

Buffon has served as back-up to Wojciech Szczesny since returning to Turin from Paris Saint-Germain in 2019 and has made nine appearances in all competitions this season.

After turning 36 last week, Cristiano Ronaldo felt compelled to remind fans that he cannot go on forever.

"I'm sorry that I can't promise you 20 more years of this," said the Juventus star, who looks every inch a man that could quite comfortably play professional football into his mid-fifties. "But what I can promise you, is that as long as I keep going, you'll never receive less than 100 per cent from me."

That much would never be in doubt from a man who, blessed with talent as he is, has built an extraordinary career on a foundation of boundless ambition and unyielding endeavour. He brings to mind Brad Pitt's turn as Achilles in Troy, the war-seeking warrior-hero who wins a skirmish singlehandedly before, abs a-glistening, he proclaims to a prisoner: "I want what all men want. I just want it more."

Achilles, as this version has it, knew Troy would bring about his death in a blaze of glory. Ronaldo, too, can already sense time's winged chariot hurrying near.

Which brings us to Gianluigi Buffon.

Juve's veteran goalkeeper, who celebrated his 43rd birthday less than two weeks ago, has for so long defied convention when it comes to a footballer's longevity. Even keepers rarely keep playing beyond the age of 40 and certainly not for Europe's grandest teams.

Buffon is not Juve's first choice these days, of course, but he remains the cup stand-in for Wojciech Szczesny and he duly kept his spot for Tuesday's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg with Inter. It was a day to celebrate, too, as a goalless draw earned him club clean sheet number 288 of his Juve career and sent his team into the final 2-1 on aggregate.

The game also showed why head coach Andrea Pirlo would do well to consider how much more his old friend has to offer.

A resolute defence meant he only had two saves to make throughout; in fact, the only time Juve looked especially anxious was when Buffon had the ball. There was one pass under pressure that went straight out for a corner, another in the second half that let Lautaro Martinez drive into the box only to foul Buffon after a heavy touch. There were three attempted punches while under pressure from Romelu Lukaku, all of which ended with Buffon clueless as to the ball's position as he landed, then grateful that it had already bounced away, and another positional mishap on which Martinez really should have capitalised.

The contrast with Samir Handanovic - himself no spring chicken at 36 - was stark. Handanovic made four saves to Buffon's two, a couple of which were exceptional stops to deny Ronaldo, who could have killed the tie long before full-time in Turin. Commanding in his penalty area, he gave quite a different impression to Buffon, who seemed like a doddering uncle at a family wedding trying desperately to keep up with the dance moves. Indeed, had Inter's attacking players showed the same level of laser-focus as Handanovic, perhaps they could have rescued this contest.

Pirlo's Juve have become supremely difficult to beat. They have won 10 of their 12 games in 2021, the sole defeat being a 2-0 Serie A loss to the Nerazzurri. Since that game on January 17, they had won six out of six games before this encounter and conceded only one goal: a close-range strike by Martinez in the first leg that squirmed into the net when Buffon, in game number 1,100 of his club career, was too slow to get to ground.

The Bianconeri are on course for more silverware this season and Buffon will deserve any more medals he can add to his impeccable collection. He may well start the final, too - one more turn in the limelight. But there is no shame in admitting that, in the 26th year of his professional career, the time is approaching when he should graciously step into the wings.

Andrea Pirlo cited the 2-0 loss to Inter in January as a turning point for in-form Juventus as they prepare to face Antonio Conte's side once again, this time in the Coppa Italia. 

Arturo Vidal and Nicolo Barella scored the goals as Inter deservedly triumphed at San Siro last month, the defeat inflicting further damage on the reigning champions in their bid for a 10th straight Serie A title. 

However, since that setback in Milan, Juve have won four games in a row without conceding. That run includes lifting the Supercoppa Italiana at the expense of Napoli, as well as a Coppa Italia quarter-final success over second-tier SPAL. 

Next up in the competition is a two-legged tie with Inter and, having been second best in the previous meeting, Pirlo is confident his side learned a valuable lesson from that game.

"I want to see a team aware of their strength," Pirlo - who confirmed Gianluigi Buffon will start in goal - told the club's television channel.

"It will be the first round, because it's a 180-minute game, so tomorrow it will be important to manage it well, because it won't be decisive.  

"The match against Inter in the league taught a lot, first of all, when we are not on the right track, we are not ourselves, but from there we started with great performances.” 

As for Conte, he is wary of a repeat of what happened to Inter in the competition in the 2019-20 season, when they lost 1-0 at home to Napoli in the first leg of the semi-final. A 1-1 draw was not enough in the return fixture, meaning they were knocked out by the eventual winners. 

"You always need to be very respectful of very strong teams, and we'll certainly need to put in an excellent performance,” the former Chelsea boss told the media.

"The upcoming 180 minutes will determine who progresses, and the first match will be important. Last year, we lost 1-0 to Napoli at home and didn't manage to turn things around at the San Paolo despite playing very well. We will need to perform and try to do our best."

The Nerazzurri will be without Romelu Lukaku on Tuesday due to suspension after he received a yellow card for his part in a confrontation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the previous round. 

Conte, though, is confident he has enough strength in depth at the position to cover for the absence of the influential Belgian. Lukaku scored twice at the weekend against Benevento in Serie A action, taking his tally for the campaign in the league to 14 goals in 16 appearances. 

"It's not the first time that Romelu has been missing," Conte said. "We will have Alexis and Lautaro, who I'm sure will do well.  

"Romelu is feeling good, he responded on the pitch and scored two goals against Benevento. Now, he's being forced to rest due to his suspension and will work hard to be in good shape when he returns in the league."

Andrea Pirlo insisted Juventus had forgotten about their recent loss to Inter ahead of the Coppa Italia semi-final between the Serie A giants.

Juve booked their spot in the last four with a 4-0 thrashing of SPAL in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

They will face Inter in a two-legged semi-final, having fallen to the Nerazzurri less than a fortnight ago in Serie A.

But Pirlo said Juve – who reached the Coppa semi-finals for the eighth time in 10 seasons – had moved on from that encounter.

"We forgot the game in Milan [against Inter] because it was in the league," the Juve head coach told a news conference.

"Next week we are going to play Coppa Italia semi-final so we will face them keen to qualify to the final. These two games are completely different.

"We have to cancel the game played last Sunday, but we have to prepare well for the semi-final."

Alvaro Morata, Gianluca Frabotta, Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa scored in Juve's resounding win over SPAL.

Morata joined Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Ciro Immobile as one of four Serie A players to have been involved in 20-plus goals in all competitions this season (13 goals and seven assists).

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Buffon started and kept a clean sheet, making one save, and Pirlo said he hoped there was more to come from the 43-year-old.

"It's a pleasure having Gigi in the team. It's a pleasure to see him training every day like a young player. This is the most important thing," he said.

"When you have that energy you can keep on [playing], otherwise you need to find something else to do. When we were playing together, I didn't expect he could have so long a career. He had serious injuries to his back and shoulder but he's been really focused to his body and he worked more than when he was young. That's why he has had this long career.

"He will play again this season because he showed he is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. I hope we can enjoy him for more time."

Before the first leg of their semi-final against Inter on February 3, Inter will visit Sampdoria on Saturday.

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