Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon on Thursday played down the world champions' chances of retaining their title at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Italy claimed victory in the finals in Germany four years ago following a penalty shoot-out with France in the final. But speaking from the Azzurri's altitude training base in Sestriere, Buffon said a repeat would be a hard ask.
"We have less chance of retaining the World Cup than we had of winning it in 2006 because after winning, it becomes more difficult to repeat that," he said. "But I have a lot of confidence because everyone, in particular the new-boys, is ready. Therefore we have the foundation necessary to make an impact at the World Cup, even if to win it you need many things to happen as well as luck.
"However, if we have to be knocked-out the important thing is to do so with our heads held high having shown Italian football in a good light."
Buffon comes into the FIFA World Cup on the back of a poor season with his club Juventus where he missed large chunks of the term due to injury but was also part of a team that posted a club record 15 league defeats and conceded another record 56 goals.
However, he denied that his own powers are waning. "If I'm given the conditions to demonstrate my qualities then I still believe that I'm the best goalkeeper in the world," he said. "From the beginning of the season until November I had my best start to a season.
We have less chance of retaining the World Cup than we had of winning it in 2006 because after winning, it becomes more difficult to repeat that.
"But when you finish seventh in the league people say: of course at Juve there's no player who has performed," he went on. "I could be the best in the world for 100 years but if we always finish 10th or 11th no-one would even know I existed."
Buffon also distanced himself from speculation linking him to a move to the English Premier League with either Manchester United or Manchester City. "I've given a lot to Juventus but it's true that I've received everything that a footballer would want, both on and off the pitch," he said. "The fans love me and that means a lot to me. I have a very well defined situation with Juve, both on my part and their's: we want to continue our relationship.
"We live in an era in which if a player wants to leave, he leaves. Without any problems," Buffon added. "You can see that Juve have shown a great desire to keep me, and I have done likewise to stay, otherwise that would not have happened. Right now the only thing I'm interested in is to have new players with the Juventus mentality -- those who join need to sweat blood for the shirt.
"This last season shows that (Claudio) Ranieri (who was sacked at the end of the 2008/09 season) was not the problem," the goalkeeper went on. "We had come to the end of a cycle but even we players didn't realise that."
The Italians are scheduled to arrive in South Africa on 9 June ahead of their Group F opener with Paraguay in Cape Town on 14 June. They then face New Zealand in Nelspruit on 20 June before rounding off their group campaign against Slovakia in Johannesburg on 24 June.