Football: Italy lose goalkeeper Buffon for England clash
Italy goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon withdrew from his country’s World Cup clash against England hours before the match in the heart of the Amazon on Saturday as Spain struggled to come to terms with their record thrashing by the Netherlands.
Ever since last December’s draw, England’s collision with Italy in the steaming former colonial outpost of Manaus has loomed as one of the picks of the World Cup’s first round.
The Group D match is a repeat of the two teams’ quarter-final at the 2012 European Championship, when Italy outplayed England before prevailing on penalties.
However England have since built a new-look side and manager Roy Hodgson has promised a bold approach against the Azzurri.
“We always look to be dominant,” Hodgson said on the eve of the game.
England’s hopes of scoring a first competitive win over Italy since 1977 received a boost ahead of the 6:00pm (2200 GMT) kick off when Azzurri goalkeeper Buffon withdrew with injury.
Buffon confirmed on Twitter he would miss the game, with Salvatore Sirigu taking his place.
“Life is great… and a missed match or another missed World Cup is not going to change my opinion on that !!” Buffon said.
“And, even if you’re not out on the pitch, there are other ways in which you can play an important role. So, go on Salvatore Sirigu !! Go on the lads !! Go on Italy !!”
Elsewhere in Group D on Saturday, Uruguay make their bow in the competition against Costa Rica in Fortaleza. Star striker Luis Suarez is not expected to play as he recovers from a knee operation.
Four games are scheduled on a busy third day of action, with Colombia kicking Group C off against Greece in Belo Horizonte.
Japan and Ivory Coast will contest the final day of the game in the coastal city of Recife at 10:00pm (0100 GMT).
As the tournament got into full swing, the shockwaves from Spain’s record 5-1 defeat against the Netherlands reverberated afar.
Spain’s heaviest loss for 51 years was also the worst ever suffered by the defending champions at a World Cup.
Spain are now fighting just to remain in the tournament as they prepare for a difficult test against Group B opponents Chile next week.
Spanish goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas took the blame for what he called his worst night.
“I have to ask forgiveness for the match we played in general and me in particular,” he said. “I was not good enough.”
Anguished Spanish newspapers described the loss, inspired by two goals apiece for Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, as a “humiliation.”
Madrid sports daily Marca mourned “a historic catastrophe”, dubbing the Netherlands’ performance “a goal-scoring spree of Biblical proportions.”
“This is not just any old defeat. It is a historic disaster. There is no precedent of this scale in the history of the World Cup,” Marca wrote.
“A ridiculous start,” screamed Barcelona-based daily Sport on its front page, calling the match Spain’s “worst nightmare.”
Yet while Spain were left licking their wounds, football fans across the world have been cheered by the goalscoring spree seen so far in the tournament.
A dour competition in 2010 had averaged just 2.21 goals per game — the lowest figure since the 1990 finals in Italy.
However the four games played in Brazil so far have seen goals flying in, with teams displaying a refreshing commitment to positive attacking play.
Former France and Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier told a press conference that positive play would be rewarded.
“I can feel it’s going to be a World Cup with positive, open and attractive play,” said Houllier, a member of FIFA’s technical study group.
“The team that wins will really attack and take risks. It looks like teams are here to score goals.”