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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Aug 29, 2006

We have to prove ourselves vs France - Buffon

ROME, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Italy need to beat France in next week's Euro 2008 qualifier to show that the World Cup final win was not just down to luck, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said on Tuesday.

They open their European championship qualifying campaign against Lithuania in Naples on Saturday and then travel to Paris to face France next Wednesday in a rematch of the World Cup final, which Italy won on penalties.

'Being world champions brings with it a big responsibility, but the experience will help us to stay focused,' Buffon was quoted as saying on La Gazzetta dello Sport's website on Tuesday.

'Everyone will look at us differently. Against France, it will be important not to lose. We have to prove ourselves and show that we didn't beat them by luck in Berlin.

'I'm just pleased there won't be any penalties on Wednesday.'

The Juventus keeper is one of 14 World Cup winners in the 24-man squad named by Italy coach Roberto Donadoni, who took over from Marcello Lippi a few days after the final.

Italy are keen to produce good performances after a second-string side lost 2-0 to Croatia in a friendly earlier this month - a defeat which brought to an end the team's 25-game unbeaten streak.

Their preparations for the qualifiers, however, have not been without problems.

The late start to Italy's football season this year, caused by legal battles surrounding the Serie A match-fixing scandal, mean that some of the country's best players are short of match fitness.

Strikers Francesco Totti, Luca Toni, Alessandro Del Piero and Vincenzo Iaquinta have been left out of the squad.

Real Madrid striker Antonio Cassano, however, after last playing for the national team in a 0-0 draw with Norway in June 2005.

'He has matured as a player, but above all as a man. Before he behaved like a kid. Now he's grown up. He understands how you should behave as part of a team,' said Buffon.

The qualifiers also reunite Buffon with former Juventus team mates Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta, who left the club last month after it was relegated to the second division for its involvement in the match-fixing scandal.

'They made their choice and you have to respect that,' he said.

'I decided to stay at Juventus as recognition of the way they raised my profile at a world level. It only seemed right at such a delicate moment to give a precise signal of support'.