Federico Marchetti could be forgiven for pinching himself as he wakes up every morning in South Africa. Second in line to Gianluigi Buffon at the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, the 27-year-old will be wearing the gloves for Italy against New Zealand on Sunday after his colleague was ruled out with a herniated disc. An unfortunate way to come to the fore perhaps, but the Cagliari No1 has suffered his own fair share of misfortune and just five years ago found himself out of the game altogether. FIFA.com traces his long and torturous route to the top.

'You’re not born a goalkeeper, you become one,' could almost be Marchetti’s motto, the athletic custodian having started out as a striker thanks to his ferocious shooting ability and powerful build. “One evening when it was raining heavily, I went in goal because we lacked keepers,” he recalls. “Something just happened and I’ve stayed there ever since.” Quickly identified for his potential, he joined the youth set-up at Torino before being loaned out to Pro Vercelli, Crotone, Treviso and Biellese to speed up his education.

He had yet to truly prove himself before disaster struck in November 2005, however, the Venice native joining the ranks of the unemployed as Torino went bankrupt. Worse then occurred a few weeks later, when he was involved in a serious car accident from which he was lucky to escape alive. “When you see death in front of you, something happens that’s difficult to explain,” he says. “It was a difficult experience that’s stayed with me to this day. So that I don’t forget it, I got myself a tattoo of the Hail Mary.”

Gigi is quicker than me and reacts faster than me... I depend more on my physical qualities. Knowing what your strengths are is, I think, the key to success

Federico Marchetti on comparisons with Gianluigi Buffon

Fortunate to have survived but still without a job, Marchetti’s fortunes began to improve when he ran into Sandro Turotti towards the end of the transfer window. The recruitment chief for Serie B side AlbinoLeffe – formed after the merger of Albinese and Leffe – snapped the goalkeeper up for just €500, the minimum required fee for all deals.

Marchetti’s life had just taken a profound change in direction and he did everything within his power to seize the opportunity. The first to arrive at training and the last to leave, he now approached his lifestyle with a strict discipline that meant zero nights out and a rigorously planned diet. As the club lacked the financial means, he even bought his own gardening tools to soften the ground in front of goal at the stadium. Then, as fate would have it, he made his Serie B debut against his idol and future international team-mate as AlbinoLeffe secured a 1-1 draw with Buffon's Juventus.

The end of the 2007/08 season prompted a move to Cagliari for almost €5m, a price that earned his previous club an enormous profit and reflected his burgeoning reputation. Strong and effective in the air as well as reliable in his ball handling, Marchetti was also attracting praise for his spectacular and courageous surges off his line to thwart opposition forwards. Those skills served him well in Sardinia and he enjoyed a superb first season that brought him the Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year award.

Marchetti’s star was clearly on the rise and on 6 July 2009, he made his debut for La Nazionale, despite having never previously represented his country at any level. He quickly worked his way up the pecking order to become second choice behind Buffon and never missed a chance to put in a few extra hours with his hero while on international duty. “Gigi is my idol,” he says. “I always try to copy things from him, like his positioning and his attitude.” The pupil nonetheless refuses to be compared with his master. “Gigi is quicker than me and reacts faster than me. His experience allows him to anticipate things. I depend more on my physical qualities. Knowing what your strengths are is, I think, the key to success.”

He now knows that the eyes of the world will be on him when he makes his maiden international start against New Zealand. “I’ll try to stop everything without thinking about anything else,” he said, hopeful that he will avoid the kind of handling error that afflicted his England counterpart. “What happened to Robert Green was just one of those mistakes than can happen in this job. Besides, Buffon has told me to play the way I know I can and said that he’s got faith in me.” Having earned the great man’s blessing, Marchetti feels nothing can go wrong.