Buffon, Pirlo still hungry for Italian job
They may have a combined age of 71 but Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are as hungry as Italy`s young guns as they embark on a possible World Cup swansong this summer.
Buffon, a World Cup winner in 2006, is now 36 years old but the Juventus goalkeeper is quick to parry any suggestions his winning desire is on the wane.
"I`m still hungry," said Buffon when asked his feelings ahead of Italy`s quest for a record-equalling fifth World Cup title.
If Italy are to negotiate a potentially tricky Group D campaign, before possibly meeting Spain or Brazil later on, a pair of safe hands and a midfield orchestrator with few peers in the game will be essential.
Together, Buffon and Pirlo boast 247 Italy appearances, Buffon holding the current national record of 139 as he and Pirlo head into their fourth and third World Cup campaigns respectively.
That experience, and the pair`s understanding from playing together at Juventus, can only benefit a squad in which Cesare Prandelli has included several fresher faces.
Buffon has been untouchable as Italy`s number one since pushing Francesco Toldo aside four games into the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.
He was in stunning form at Germany 2006, conceding a World Cup record of two goals throughout and finishing with five clean sheets as Italy set up a final against France.
With the scores tied 1-1, Buffon crucially saved a header from Zinedine Zidane in extra time before the match went on to penalties, where Italy triumphed 5-3.
In South Africa four years later, Buffon was replaced at half-time due to a sciatic nerve problem before Italy went on to draw their opening group game 1-1 against Paraguay. It was his last game of the tournament and, tellingly, Italy failed to get past the first round.
Buffon captained Italy for Euro 2012, and the effect was instant. He conceded only three goals on Italy`s path to the final where the Azzurri were humbled 4-0 by Spain.
Having conceded just 23 league goals in yet another triumphant Serie A season, Buffon has no doubts about what he expects from Italy in Brazil. "I expect our squad to be solid, organised and determined not to lose games by our own design," said Buffon.
"It will be hard to beat everyone, but other teams will have to work hard if they want to beat us, we won`t be giving anything away for free."
As Buffon barks from the back, Pirlo will go about his quieter but no less important role of conducting play from in front of the defence, moving the ball forward and seizing on deadball situations where he can exploit his stunning free-kick abilities.
Former Italy coach Marcello Lippi once said: "Pirlo is a silent leader. He speaks with his feet."
Pirlo`s vision, technical skill, passing and goalscoring have been crucial to Italy at key stages in recent years.
A pair of Pirlo free kicks against Scotland secured Italy`s ticket for the 2006 World Cup and in Germany the then AC Milan midfielder was on fire.
Pirlo scored the opener against Ghana and then set up Vincenzo Iaquinta for a 2-0 win, while in the second game he set up Alberto Gilardino for a diving header which secured a crucial 1-1 draw against United States.
In the semi-final Pirlo assisted Italy`s opening goal in a 2-0 win against Germany, and in the final he delivered the corner from which Marco Materrazzi headed the equaliser to Zidane`s early opener for France.
As the match went to penalties, Pirlo scored Italy`s first spot-kick to send the Azzurri on to a 5-3 win, ending the campaign with three man-of-the-match awards and inclusion into the team of the tournament.
Ahead of what could be his, and Buffon`s final World Cup, the keeper says few words are needed to describe his fellow veteran: "He`s a genius, what else is there to say?"