March 22, 2018 / 9:35 PM / 6 months ago

Soccer - Italy's a strange country, says Buffon

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said Italy was a strange country as he replied to criticism of the decision to pick him for this month’s friendlies against Argentina and England.

Soccer Football - Italy Press Conference - Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain - March 22, 2018 Italy's Gianluigi Buffon during the press conference Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough

Buffon, 40, has back-tracked on his decision to retire from international football following Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup at the request of interim coach Luigi Di Biagio.

A player renowned for his eloquence and sportsmanship, Buffon said he found it “quite sensational” that his inclusion had met with criticism from some quarters, such as former Italy defender Claudio Gentile.

“We are a strange country, but I already knew that,” Buffon told reporters on the eve of the friendly against Argentina.

“I am the goalkeeper of Juventus who are not exactly a fifth-rate team. To create such a controversy after I have been wearing the national team shirt, with varying degrees of success, for 25 years is, for me, quite sensational.”

Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after they were held 0-0 at home by Sweden in November and Buffon confirmed after the game that he had ended his international career.

Gentile said in a radio interview on Tuesday that Di Biagio should have looked to younger players as he begins rebuilding the side. Buffon, however, believed he could still help the team.

“This is not just for show, because that would not have interested me, but it’s so that I can be useful. I’m here with great enthusiasm,” he said.

He remained uncertain about how or when he would end his career.

“I don’t know if my last game will be with Juventus or Italy. It will be a calm and simple evening,” he said. “I came into football on a Vespa and I will leave without a car because I only have the one that belongs to Juventus.”

Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern, editing by Ed Osmond

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