Gianluigi Buffon is the latest in a long and distinguished line of gifted Italian goalkeepers, continuing the legacy bequeathed by the likes of Giampiero Combi, Aldo Olivieri and Dino Zoff. As the Azzurri know perhaps better than anyone, a great side needs a great keeper and in Buffon they have perhaps the perfect custodian. The outstanding No1 of his generation, he has been named Serie A's goalkeeper of the season seven times and four times world goalkeeper of the year.
With his tall, slender frame, Buffon was destined to be a goalkeeper. Capable of making the most difficult saves look easy, whether from distance or at point-blank range, there is no apparent weakness in his game and few strikers have ever managed to get the better of him on a regular basis. Perhaps one of his main qualities is an ability to put whatever errors he makes to the back of his mind and focus on the match again.
Hailing from a sporting family (his mother Maria Stella Masocco was an Italian discus champion), the young Buffon made his first league appearance for Parma at the age of 17 years and nine months on 19 November 1995, keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw with AC Milan.
He would go to play 168 games in six seasons with I Gialloblu, winning an Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup and the UEFA Cup before moving to Juventus in 2001 as Edwin van der Sar's replacement. He brought his skills to bear in his very first season, making a vital contribution to Juve's title success by conceding only 23 goals in 34 games. He has remained loyal to the Turin giants ever since, becoming a cornerstone of the club.
Buffon's first international appearance came in a match against Russia in October 1997. The following year he travelled to the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ as Italy's second-choice keeper. Forced to pull out of the squad for UEFA EURO 2000 with injury, he made his mark at Korea/Japan 2002 by saving a penalty in Italy's fateful golden-goal elimination to Korea Republic in the Round of 16. And at EURO 2004 in Portugal his luck was out once again when Italy were eliminated in the group phase.
Those disappointments were all forgotten at Germany 2006, however, when Buffon won his first major international trophy with the national team. The Juventus shotstopper had a vital part to play in Italy's penalty-shootout win in the Final against France, keeping out Zinedine Zidane's extra-time header with a superb leaping save and then winning a bout of spot-kick mind games with his Juve team-mate David Trezeguet, forcing the Frenchman to change his usual penalty-taking technique.
Never less than fully committed, Buffon has also suffered his fair share of injuries, not unlike his idol, the former Cameroon star Thomas N'Kono, after whom the Juventus and Italy legend named his son.