Gianluigi Buffon belongs to an elite group of footballers who need no introduction whatsoever. The Juventus and Italy goalkeeper has been one of the best in the game for more than 15 years and will doubtless be remembered as such for generations to come. A world champion and European runner-up with Italy, Buffon lifted the UEFA Cup with Parma and it is testament to his trophy-laden career that the only silverware missing from his enviable collection is a UEFA Champions League title, having been a losing finalist with Juve.
The shot-stopper may be 35, but his aura of invincibility is undiminished and he is set to captain his country at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. A crucial member of Italy's side at the recently-ended FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, Buffon saved a trio of penalties in the shoot-out against Uruguay to help secure a third-placed finish.
Shortly after the final whistle sounded on that podium-decider, the amicable custodian chatted exclusively to FIFA.com about his thoughts on the tournament, his country's future prospects and his own performances in South America.
FIFA.com: Had you ever saved three penalties in a shoot-out like you did against Uruguay?
Gianluigi Buffon: Yes I had, but I don't see it as anything special, it's part of my job. Of course it's great to win on penalties, especially after saving three of them, but doing it in the match for third place takes some of the shine off, as you can't help thinking that you should have been in the final. In fact, if I'd managed to keep out just one of the penalties against Spain we would’ve been playing in the Maracana!
Are you not being a bit harsh on yourself considering your displays over the course of the tournament?
I'm just more used to being self-critical than celebrating my achievements. Obviously I enjoy success, but I'm very demanding of myself.
What did you make of the game against Uruguay?
It was a tough match, both because of the opponent and the intense heat, but we kept going until the end and I'm happy I could play my part. Another defeat would’ve been very disappointing, so we should celebrate our ability to show our character even when our legs were tired.
What can Italy take from the tournament?
There's no doubt we did well overall, so that's satisfying. We showed we're a good team that's able to compete on an equal footing against anyone, which is a great quality to have. Another advantage is that we have a fantastic group of players, and that isn't always the case in a team, especially at international level.
How do you rate your personal performances?
I think I also had a good tournament, apart from a bad half an hour or so against Brazil and I'm happy I could finish on a high with those saves against Uruguay. Obviously it's difficult when things don't go your way against the host team, but I prefer to look at the bigger picture, which I believe was a positive one.
Do you think playing in the FIFA Confederations Cup will help Italy at Brazil 2014?
Absolutely. We learnt so many little things that will help us prepare better for next year. From the weather to the level our opponents are at, there were lots of interesting details to take from it. I honestly think it's been great to have a dress rehearsal before the World Cup because it'll give us a small advantage over everyone else.
Given the results against Brazil and Spain, do you believe Italy are currently on a par with the world's best teams?
No, we're at a different level. We're a side that's been improving steadily over the last few years. We hope to continue that process to be able to get to where we want to be, but for now our focus isn't on drawing comparisons with other teams, but to reach the level we want to be at for Brazil 2014.
What needs to be done to achieve that?
I think we're on the right track, but it's a process so we constantly need to hone the finer details. We did well at the Confederations Cup and we upheld the reputation Italy has earned over the years. We'll try to do the same at the World Cup but we need to be in good form to do so. That's what we're working towards.
Finally, before the penalty shoot-out against Uruguay got underway, you were seen laughing with your opposite number Fernando Muslera. What did you say to each other?
Goalkeepers usually tend to have very good relationships with each other. We talked about how difficult the game had been, how long the tournament had been, the fact that we were playing for third place, extra time, penalties…we were just exhausted. I told him they had a slight advantage over us because they hadn't gone through it all already in the semi-finals (laughs).