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 By Ben Gladwell

Buffon injury was 'psychological blow'

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti weighs in on Italy's midfield, Mario Balotelli and their defensive issues.

Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon is expected to "recover quickly," although it is not yet known if he will return in goal for Friday's World Cup clash with Costa Rica.

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Buffon, 36, was forced out of Italy's win over England on Saturday with an ankle injury he picked up during the final prematch training session with the Squadra Azzurra in Manaus.

The 2006 World Cup-winner initially raised doubts over his participation in the whole tournament, wishing understudy Salvatore Sirigu well in a post on social media.

Sirigu was one of Italy's best performers during the 2-1 win in their Group D opener, although a fit Buffon would be expected to automatically regain the No. 1 spot. That may be a decision coach Cesare Prandelli has to make in the very near future, according to Dr Enrico Castellacci.

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"He's already started physio," Castellacci said at a news conference. "Obviously for a tournament of this kind, we will try to get him back as quickly as possible, even if the player's overall health is the priority. I believe he's going to recover quickly, but don't ask me if he will be ready to face Costa Rica because we've got to assess things day by day."

Buffon led the encouragement of Sirigu from the bench in Manaus, making great gestures in support of the Paris Saint-Germain keeper. The Juventus veteran, who also missed most of the 2010 World Cup campaign after injuring himself during Italy's opening fixture, set an example with his response to a personal setback.

"On a psychological level, Buffon struggled to begin with -- clearly the thoughts of his experiences in the past came flooding back -- but then once he had analysed the situation, optimism took over," Castelacci added. "When I saw him in the dressing room, Gigi was smiling and saying wise words. He thought he was going to have to leave this World Cup, but then realised he was going to stay and be important."

Buffon has suffered injury heartbreak at major tournaments in the past.

Buffon also missed out on Euro 2000 -- where Italy finished as runners-up after losing to France in the final -- after fracturing his hand just before the tournament. The beneficiary that time was Francesco Toldo, who said he could see similarities between his and Sirigu's situation.

"It's true, I could see myself a bit in Sirigu, although there was one major difference about the two situations," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Between me and Buffon, it was a real rivalry but the hierarchy is much more defined now. But as soon as I saw Buffon encouraging everybody from the bench, I realised how Sirigu had been able to take to the field without any fear.

"I could see in his eyes that he was ready for this moment. Sirigu has played in the Champions League so he knows how to deal with a certain degree of pressure, even if a World Cup is something else: make half a mistake, and you're done with, but he didn't even make a quarter of one.

"Sirigu now knows that he is covered and you'll see that if [Buffon's] not ready to return, Gigi will give him a hand once again."

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