Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon has called upon his side to raise their game for a Group D decider that could see the Azzurri eliminated from the FIFA World Cup™. After a promising 2-1 opening win over England, Italy's 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica in Recife on Friday means that they now require a draw against Uruguay to qualify for the Round of 16.
Defeat to the South Americans in Recife would send the four-time champions home at the first hurdle, four years after they bowed out at the group stage after a winless campaign in South Africa.
Buffon, who missed Italy's opener against England due to an ankle injury, admitted the Azzurri have been far below their best, playing in difficult temperatures. But he said Italy must set excuses aside and make amends with a performance that will give the country hope ahead of a second round which, he says, "will be even tougher".
"The truth is, we just couldn't perform to the level that we did against England. Now, we have to send some positive signals and the only way to do that is to raise our game against Uruguay," Buffon told reporters in Natal on Sunday. "We need to show some strength and pride and come up with a win. We need cool heads but also to be highly motivated. If we end up going out in the first round, it will be a failure."
Buffon admitted there is still a question mark over how Italy's campaign so far has affected the condition of the team.
If we end up going out in the first round, it will be a failure.
"I think a lot of European teams are struggling compared to the Latin Americans," added Buffon, who will stretch his caps record to 142 on Tuesday. "But that isn't a reason. The climate is the same for all of our opponents. Once we've finished training today we'll see what kind of condition we are in."
With England already eliminated, Italy and Uruguay, who both have three points, will battle for the second qualifying spot. Due to Uruguay's worse goal difference, they need to beat Italy if they are to have a chance of repeating their exploits of 2010 when they reached the semi-finals.
Buffon is hoping Italy's desire to meet the challenge is greater than the momentum Uruguay will benefit from following a gutsy win against England.
"They are a good team, they've managed to relaunch their campaign by beating England and now the whole of Uruguay believes they can beat us and go through," said Buffon. "We'll meet them after a defeat, but when we're faced with a challenge that's when we respond best."