Goalkeeping legend Gianluigi Buffon has said that Ivan Rakitić and Jordi Alba have given him a "great gift" after the Barcelona pair praised the 39-year-old following Italy's failure to qualify for the Wolrd Cup.
Pictures of Buffon crying in a post-match interview last week tugged at the heartstrings of football fans across the world. Rakitić was one of the Barcelona players touched by Buffon's interview and even offered the Bianconeri goalkeeper a place in the Croatian national team for next summer's tournament.
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"When a child writes out his ideal lineup, Buffon is always in there," Rakitić said, as quoted by Sport. "When you saw him crying in the interview at the end of the match [against Sweden], you wanted to cry with him.
"I would like to tell Buffon to go in my place [to the World Cup] because what he’s done for football is incredible. It’s a shame he isn’t able to finish his career at another World Cup and I’d honestly love to give him that opportunity."
Rakitić's Spanish teammate, Jordi Alba, also had some kind words for Buffon ahead of Barcelona's match against Juventus on Wednesday.
"Buffon's the best goalkeeper in history," he told Tuttosport. "I would love to change shirts with him and add it to my collection. For me, it's a crime that Buffon and Italy aren't at the World Cup."
The Italian veteran responded to the Barcelona stars on social media, thanking them for their words and offering a shirt ahead of their meeting at the Juventus Stadium.
"Dear Ivan Rakitić, as a goalkeeper I might still play but playing for Croatia as a midfielder in your place might not be a great idea: I am saying it for your good sake. Joking apart, your words have been a great gift. Thanks to you and Jordi Alba: my jersey is waiting for you."
Juventus and Barcelona are coming into this Champions League fixture off the back of very different results at the weekend. The hosts conceded three goals away to Sampdoria and despite a late comback, Massimiliano Allegri saw his side suffer a 3-2 defeat at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
For Barcelona, thier 3-0 victory away at Leganes was vital in maintaining their confidence and with a match against high-flying Valencia coming up in the league, the Blaugrana will be hoping to claim all three points in Turin.