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 By Ben Gladwell

Gianluigi Buffon: My presence in Italy squad will help, not hinder, successor search

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Gianluigi Buffon acknowledges the crowd during his landmark game.
Gianluigi Buffon is Italy's all-time leading appearance maker with 175 caps.

Gianluigi Buffon says his presence in the latest Italy squad should help bring through his eventual successor as Italy No.1 and not hinder him.

Buffon was named in Luigi Di Biagio's squad to face Argentina and England over the coming week, despite appearing to announce his retirement from the international game following Italy's failure to beat Sweden in a World Cup playoff in November.

AC Milan's 19-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma had been tipped to become Italy's new No. 1, but he may have to wait a little longer before being passed the baton from Buffon, who insists he would not have accepted the call had he felt he would be standing on anybody's toes.

"I'm here because I'm a person who is always coherent with what I say, and I have a great sense of responsibility and these two things are enough to explain my presence," he told reporters at Florence's railway station. "Besides, the coach has been very nice to me.

"In a moment like this, considering I am and have always been an aggregating element, I would like my presence here to be seen like this and not in any other way because that's not my intention.

"The youngsters will grow -- they already have grown -- and in future they will all have their place available." 

Buffon also said the chance to pay tribute to Davide Astori was another reason he had accepted the opportunity to represent Italy again.

"This [Davide Astori] is another reason why I've come here and I felt it was right to be present and respond to this call-up."

Luigi Di Biagio was named Italy's temporary head coach and will sit on the bench during the next two games against France and Netherlands.

"The youngsters will grow -- they already have grown -- and their place will be available in the future."

Donnarumma and Genoa's Mattia Perin have been named in the 26-man squad and Di Biagio has yet to reveal who will start against Argentina at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester on March 23 or at Wembley four days later.

With 175 caps, Buffon is already Italy's all-time leading appearance maker, while he is just three outings short of moving up from fourth to second on the worldwide list of most capped players, behind Egypt's Ahmed Hassan on 184.

The 40-year-old has yet to announce his intentions for next season, although he is thought to be keen on continuing playing on for another year.

Italy's next games are in June against France and Netherlands, when a new full-time head coach is expected to have been appointed. Under-21 coach Di Biagio has been placed in temporary charge while a successor to Gian Piero Ventura, who was sacked following Italy's failure to reach the World Cup, is found.

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.


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