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Soccer: Buffon to match record as Italy eye Brazil 2014

Azzurri can seal World Cup place with victory over Czechs

Soccer: Buffon to match record as Italy eye Brazil 2014

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, September 9 - Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will equal Fabio Cannavaro's record of Italy appearances on Tuesday when the Azzurri aim to seal qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with victory over the Czech Republic. Italy are seven points clear at the top of European qualifying Group B after Friday's 1-0 win in Palermo over second-placed Bulgaria. This means that victory in Turin over the third-placed Czechs will give Cesare Prandelli's men an unassailable advantage at the top of the table and guarantee them a place in Brazil with two qualifying games to spare. Prandelli will have star striker Mario Balotelli available again for Tuesday's game, along with fellow forward Pablo Osvaldo and playmaker Riccardo Montolivo after the trio were suspended against the Bulgarians. But the night is set to belong to Buffon, who will equal the tally of 136 caps piled up by World Cup-winning captain Cannavaro, at the ground where he plays week after week for his club Juventus. And Buffon, who is now the Azzurri captain, looks poised to set a new mark that will take a lot of beating after saying last week that he will never retire from the national team. "It'll never be me who is the one who says 'enough'. It would be a sort of desertion," the 35-year-old, who made his first international appearance in 1997, told reporters. "If one day they decide not to call me up any more, or they put me on the bench for the good of the national team, there won't be any problems. "I remain ready for orders...only when they tell me to stand aside will I acknowledge this and say goodbye". Buffon has been named by the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History & Statistics) the goalkeeper of the year four times and was named goalkeeper of the 21st century and of the decade by the same organisation. There have been suggestions he is past his best after some poor performances recently and talk of a time for a change of guard, after Lazio's Federico Marchetti played well in Italy's 2-1 defeat to Argentina in a friendly last month. In April Bayern Munich Honorary Chairman Beckenbauer said Buffon looked like a "pensioner" when his poor showing helped the German side beat Juve 2-0 in the Champions League quarter-final first leg on the way to a 4-0 aggregate win. But Prandelli has made it clear that Buffon remains his first choice in net and the captain proved his worth on Friday with a series of excellent saves that denied Bulgaria an equaliser. Buffon, who helped Italy win the 2006 World Cup, is blessed with superb reflexes, an ability to give his defenders peace of mind with his firm command of the penalty area under high balls and superb concentration skills. He joined Juve from Parma in 2001 and helped them win the 2002, 2003, 2012 and 2013 Serie A titles, as well as the 2005 and 2006 scudettos that were subsequently taken away because of the 2006 Calciopoli match-fixing scandal. He was also part of the team that reached the final of the European Champions League in 2003 and was among the handful of top players who stayed at Juve to help them return to the top flight after the were regelated because of the 2006 scandal.

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