Gianluigi Buffon helped Italy win the 2006 World Cup and is one of the game's most universally beloved players, making Italy's failure to reach the World Cup as his career winds down supremely harsh. 

By 90Min
November 15, 2017

Not since 1958 had Italy failed to reach a major footballing competition, and while manager Gian Piero Ventura will go down in infamy as the man who oversaw a national tragedy, the Azzurri's failure brings down the curtain on the career of Gianluigi Buffon in the most heart-wrenching of circumstances.

Buffon's sentiments immediately after the game at San Siro on Tuesday evening spoke volumes, as at the end of his 175th appearance the 39-year-old wept tears for a nation.

With the Juventus stopper in his final season as No. 1 in Turin as well, a tale fitting for one of Milan's most famous opera houses in the city was not a work of fiction, more a real-life tale of woe that for Buffon is an ignominious end to his international career.

Like a fine wine from the valleys of Tuscany where he grew up, Buffon improved with age from his early days with Parma through his money-spinning move to Juventus in 2001 and beyond.

In 1999 with I Crociati, Buffon won a treble of Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup and Supercoppa Italia, but his accolades that year merely touch the surface on what has been a truly remarkable story.

Not only is the Juventus stopper the most capped player in Italian history, but the fourth-most in the roll-call of international careers and the joint-most European appearances record, shared with compatriot Fabio Cannavaro.

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A winner of 10 Serie A titles, Buffon backstopped Italy to the World Cup title in Germany in 2006, which makes Italian failure 11 years on even more the unfathomable.

Named as both UEFA Best Goalkeeper of the Year and Player of the Year in 2003, Buffon broke boundaries that mere mortals could only dreams of. 

The only prize notably absent from his glittering list is the Champions League, despite making the final on three separate occasions.

It is perhaps rather ironically in this fact that having dealt with disappointment three-fold, that Buffon can look upon this latest rather darker chapter as an avenue of education.

Had Italy qualified for the next summer, it is a far-stretched notion that Gli Azzurri could have come close to their fifth honors as world champions, but there is no denying it would have been a fitting stage on which to depart the game.

Happy endings in spent rarely occur. Ask Muhammad Ali or Jake La Motta that, but this particular sporting odyssey deserved to play out its final scene on a grander stage to that of incredulity and astonishment to the backdrop of one the games most famous venues.

The Italian failure of 2017 will go down in footballing folklore, and sadly for the timekeeper on Gigi Buffon's career so does his. Rather unfortunately also, it does so leaving him like us with a rather bitter taste in the mouth.

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