Simone Scuffet hails from Friul, the same region of Italy that gave the world Dino Zoff, the legendary Azzurri keeper who captained the side to victory at the 1982 FIFA World Cup™. Yet as influential as Zoff was, it was not this great Italian who inspired the young Italian to follow in his footsteps and become a goalkeeper.
Even a player of Zoff’s stature cannot act as a reference point for someone who was born in May 1996, almost two years after Roberto Baggio had missed a penalty in another World Cup final graced by Italy. Truth be told, the young goalkeeper who has shone brightly at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 chose his position between the sticks because of a far more modest custodian who never made a name for himself in the game – his father, Fabrizio Scuffet.
“When I first started getting into football, my dad was a goalkeeper, so I followed suit,” Scuffet junior told FIFA.com. Son would watch father in action. “He only played in the amateur leagues, never professionally.”
Despite his tender years, Scuffet, 17, is a member of the Udinese first-team squad, alongside Serbian Zeljko Brkic, ten years his senior. It is something rarely seen in Italian teams, especially at a club that regularly fights for qualification for UEFA competitions.
But anyone who saw the youngster in action during the Group B matches in Ras Al Khaimah will not be surprised. He denied the opposition time and again. Not only did he save penalties and keep out shots from distance, but most impressively he came out on top in numerous one-on-one situations thanks to his razor sharp reflexes and athleticism. It is a continuation of the form he showed in helping Italy to the runners-up spot in the UEFA European U-17 Championship.
“I conceded few goals at the EURO, although that’s also because of the solid defence I had in front of me and our emphasis on keeping it tight at the back,” he said. “I’m proud of my achievements so far and want to build on them.”
Indeed, the players comprising the Italian rearguard in this new generation are fast making a name for themselves. At the European Championship they conceded just two goals in five matches, and thus far at UAE 2013 they have let in two goals in three games – both against Uruguay after keeping the net intact for 180 minutes against Côte d’Ivoire and New Zealand.
It was against the young men from Oceania that Scuffet announced himself, saving Monty Patterson’s spot-kick in the first half. The goalkeeper was relieved to keep the ball out, rectifying what he considers to be his error. “The penalty resulted from my mistake, so I was determined to make up for it by saving it. I would have let the team down and put them in a difficult spot if we had fallen behind so early in the match.”
Thou shall not score
Defend it he did, and in spectacular fashion. The Italian diverted the initial strike onto the post, only to see the ball fall to Patterson again in the six-yard box. Displaying astonishing speed, Scuffet leapt to smother the follow-up effort from the New Zealander.
“As soon as I realised I’d made the save but had failed to hold onto the ball, I looked to see where it had bounced. When I saw the forward about to shoot again I just tried to close him down as quickly as possible,” explains the shot-stopper, who cites Udinese’s former Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, now at Inter Milan, as the player he looks up to. “I learned a lot from him, important details and the secrets of good positioning.”
Against Uruguay the Italians were finally beaten, but again their goalkeeper turned in an eye-catching display. The 2-1 defeat would have been a lot worse had it not been for Scuffet’s string of excellent blocks to thwart the talented Uruguayan forwards. For the first goal he almost pulled off a remarkable save, getting his hand to Joel Bregonis’s powerful header from point-blank range, but he could not keep it out.
Failing to prevent the ball from entering the net is enormously frustrating for a goalkeeper, but it is a sensation Scuffet rarely experiences, as has been duly noted by the Italian delegation at UAE 2013. The Azzurri appear to have unearthed another gem of a goalkeeper and, while it is too early to start talking about a ‘new Zoff,’ at least Scuffet has surpassed the feats of Fabrizio. “When I was a kid I made a bet with my father that I would be a better goalkeeper that him and go further in the game,” he quipped. “I think I’ve done that.”