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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Stellar Keylor Navas shows why Gianluigi Buffon should step aside

'A solid, steady goalkeeper is a key ingredient to any team's success,' writes Gary Meenaghan, and, with that in mind, witnessing Costa Rica soar with Navas, Italy should see the current limitations of Buffon a little more clearly now.
Gianluigi Buffon reacts during Italy's loss on Friday to Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup. Srdjan Suki / EPA / June 20, 2014
Gianluigi Buffon reacts during Italy's loss on Friday to Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup. Srdjan Suki / EPA / June 20, 2014

A solid, steady goalkeeper is a key ingredient to any team’s success. It is a simple statement, but much like “I love you”, “It’s free” and “Con Air is the greatest movie ever made”, it is a sentence probably not uttered often enough.

This month’s public demise of Spain’s once-great Iker Casillas may prove the quintessential example of a subpar goalkeeper dragging his side down. Naturally, the blame cannot fall solely at his door but a player who was once seen as a captain with incredible goalkeeping abilities must now only be seen as a captain.

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The reverse occurred in the case of Guillermo Ochoa. The possibly never-before-called-great Mexican goalkeeper is out of contract after his French side, AC Ajaccio, shipped 72 goals en route to relegation from Ligue 1. Yet it was down to Ochoa’s heroics against Brazil that ensured Mexico left Fortaleza with a point on Tuesday. Yesterday evening, in Recife, Gianluigi Buffon became only the fifth Italian in history to appear at four World Cups when he returned to the line-up for his country’s tie with Costa Rica. If you look up Europe in the Big Book of Great Goalkeepers, Buffon is pictured there, staring back at you with those watery blue eyes.

Against England, the Juventus veteran – a 2001 world record €45 million (Dh224.6m) signing from Parma – sat out after twisting an ankle and was replaced by Paris Saint-Germain’s Salvatore Sirigu. However, despite Sirigu putting in a solid performance, he found himself on the bench on Friday as Italy lost 1-0. Buffon looked shaky and unsettled and while the goal his side conceded was a close-range header, that unfriendly and unforgiving beast called social media soon questioned the Italian captain’s role.

“Buffon is done,” one armchair warrior tweeted. Another expert: “Buffon just pulled a Casillas”.

In truth, his performance was no such thing. Yes, he flapped at a corner and generally did not look like the commanding presence Italy has grown to know and love for the past 16 years, but he was by no means any more culpable for his side’s defeat than the Italian defenders who failed to track their runners, the midfielders who failed to dominate or the strikers who failed to score.

That said, his involvement was unnecessary. Sirigu is the future – at least for a few years until Udinese’s Simone Scuffet steps up – and had done his job correctly against England. He should have remained in the side. Dropping him showed a reluctance to change the guard; a situation that has already been proved fatal to Spain’s chances this summer.

At the opposite end of the pitch was Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, who might well find himself involved in a gloved wrestling bout with Ochoa for best goalkeeper of the group stages. After an assured display against Uruguay, in which he was beaten only by a penalty, the Levante stopper hardly put a foot wrong for the second time.

Navas is helping elevate Costa Rica to a new level and was instrumental in their passage to the knockout stages for the first time since 1990.

Buffon, asked about his country’s surprise conquerors, said: “There are no Cinderellas in world football any more.”

It is true. Yet there is still a ball and certain people must, for their own sake, be willing to leave when their allotted time is approaching.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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