Buffon believes in Italy chances
© AFP

Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon has claimed he would have been "carted off" if he suggested he could lead his country to UEFA EURO 2012 glory before they reached the quarter-finals.

But the goalkeeper has now boldly declared them contenders for the title ahead of Sunday's quarter-final showdown with England.

Italy have failed to kick on from winning the FIFA World Cup™ in 2006, getting knocked out of EURO 2008 in the last eight and not even qualifying for the knockout stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

With Spain and Germany still in EURO 2012, Italy remain very much dark horses in many people's eyes. Buffon said: "I have never said that we will win the tournament because, if I had said that, I might have been carted off.

"I would have been rather presumptuous, given that there is Spain, who are much stronger than anyone, and Germany, who are much better than the others. But this does not mean that, if we meet these teams, we will automatically lose."

I've never played them in an important match before.
Gianluigi Buffon on facing England

To play Germany in the semi-finals, Italy must first beat England tomorrow. Buffon, 34, said: "I only ever faced England in two friendlies and we won both.

"I've never played them in an important match before. I hope there will be more occasions, but I above all hope we win this one."

Buffon laughed off the prospect of a penalty shoot-out against England. The potential for tomorrow's game to be decided on spot-kicks has been much-discussed in the build-up to the Kiev clash.

England goalkeeper Joe Hart revealed on Thursday he had already studied videos of penalties taken by Italy's players as part of his preparations for the match.

However, Buffon said: "For everyone involved, for the sake of our hearts, it would be better if we get the job done without having to resort to penalties. But if it does then we will just have to deal with it."