March 23, 2017

PALERMO, Sicily (AP) Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon will mark his 1,000th appearance as a professional in the World Cup qualifier against Albania on Friday.

Buffon made his debut at the age of 17 in 1995, playing for Parma, before moving to Juventus in 2001.

The goalkeeper has played for Italy for more than 19 years, having made his debut at 19 on Oct. 29, 1997.

''It's a huge pleasure,'' Buffon said on Thursday about reaching the landmark, before joking, ''I can tell you there will be another thousand.''

Buffon is expected to retire after the 2018 World Cup in Russia. If Italy gets to the finals, he will become the only footballer to feature in six World Cups.

''I'm just thinking about the next matches,'' he said when asked about retiring in 2018.

''In life we have objectives: It's important to win, (but) when you want to win big there's a risk of being burned. We'll think about things calmly.''

Buffon will make his 168th appearance for Italy, becoming the most capped player in European football history, surpassing fellow goalie Iker Casillas and former Latvia midfielder Vitalijs Astafjevs.

The 39-year-old Buffon will move into fifth on the world list, 16 appearances off Ahmed Hassan's record for Egypt.

Only the nine European group winners are guaranteed to reach the World Cup, while the eight best runners-up face a playoff. Italy is level on points with Spain at the top of Group G but second on goal difference.

Israel, which visits Spain on Friday, is a point behind, with Albania three points further back.

A dream final match for Buffon would be winning the World Cup for a second time, but he has another idea of how he would like to go out: ''Maybe,'' he said with a laugh, ''I'll do a (Zinedine) Zidane and head-butt someone on the pitch.''

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