| KRAKOW, Poland, June 22
KRAKOW, Poland, June 22 Mention penalties to
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon or an Englishman and the
eyebrows rise, a deep breath is taken and the gulp is almost
audible. They do not like them and never will.
Buffon, who like England has a patchy record in shootouts
despite Italy winning the 2006 World Cup on penalties, does not
want Sunday's Euro 2012 quarter-final against England to reach
the almost masochistic conclusion where one kick decides all.
The fact Buffon believes the two sides are so well-matched
suggests penalties are a real possibility in Kiev if the two
generally defensive sides cannot be separated.
"Definitely for all us it would be better to try to close
out the match beforehand but if it goes to penalties so be it,"
captain Buffon told a news conference on Friday.
"On paper against England it is 50/50 who will win. It will
be a game where little episodes will make the difference.
"I think it is a very balanced game, totally equal. I don't
see any favourite."
Buffon celebrated madly when Italy beat France on penalties
in 2006 after Fabio Grosso's winning kick but the keeper did not
save any France penalties with David Trezeguet striking the bar.
He also failed to stop Zinedine Zidane's penalty in normal
time, although that was only the second goal he conceded all
tournament as he confirmed his position as the world's best.
Buffon managed one save in the lost shootout with Spain in
the quarter-finals of Euro 2008, where he superbly saved a
penalty from Romania's Adrian Mutu in the group stage.
Further back, he was on the losing side when Juventus lost
the 2003 Champions League final against AC Milan on penalties.
The 34-year-old has long said he is not a particular fan of
the shootout and unlike England counterpart Joe Hart, he has yet
to analyse where Roy Hodgson's side tend to put their penalties.
"Tonight with my two team mates (reserve keepers) we will
look at a video and try to document it in the best way," Buffon
said to roars of smutty laughter from fellow shotstopper
Salvatore Sirigu sat beside him.
Buffon's relationship with penalties contrasts markedly with
Hart, who has never been involved in a major shootout so has
none of the baggage but no experience to dwell on.
The England man, in his first big tournament, was hailed by
Buffon as one of the best three young keepers at the tournament
who "can achieve great things in the world of football".
Hart, 25, said on Thursday that he would like to take a
penalty in a shootout not just try to save them.
"If they let me," he said. "I would put my name forward 100
percent. I would back myself in a tournament."
England are serial losers in penalty shootouts having been
eliminated that way by Germany at the 1990 World Cup and Euro
1996, by Argentina at the 1998 World Cup and by Portugal at Euro
2004 and the 2006 World Cup.
"I do my research," Hart said. "I know where all the Italian
players put their penalties. But anyone in this room can do
that... You just go to Youtube and 'click'..."
(Additional reporting by Timothy Collings; Editing by Ed