Saturday 17 February 2018

Buffon confident Italy 'togetherness' can see off Zlatan

Gianluigi Buffon Photo: REUTERS/Giorgio Perottino
Gianluigi Buffon Photo: REUTERS/Giorgio Perottino

Ed Dove

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is adamant that Sweden are not a one-man team but he is wary of "superstar" Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Buffon shone alongside defenders Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as Italy beat Belgium 2-0 in their Group E opener and the Juventus quartet now face the daunting prospect of subduing Ibrahimovic in Toulouse.

"Clearly we are wary of Zlatan, because he is one of a small group of absolute superstars who really make the difference for the teams they play for," Buffon said.

While the goalkeeper denied that the 34-year-old striker was Sweden's only threat, he said that Ibrahimovic's self-belief and ability make him stand out from his team-mates.

"Sweden aren't just a one-man team - they have a number of excellent players - but clearly his talent and his belief that he's a superstar are things you don't see in the rest of their squad," Buffon added. "He'll be a real problem."

However, Buffon, who was memorably beaten by an audacious back-heeled Ibrahimovic goal at Euro 2004, believes that Italy's defensive unit is prepared for the challenge that awaits them.

"Leonardo, Giorgio, Andrea and I have been playing together for many years and we're a fully functioning unit," he continued. "We're like clockwork."

Buffon added: "A squad gets stronger as you go along, picking up results - that is inevitable. But it's also true that there has been a willingness within this group since day one (of the training camp) to create a togetherness and believe in what we can do.

"The fact we achieved what we did in 2006 was due to a strength and unity of intent that you can only have with 23 lads and all the staff thinking the same way."

The Italians arrived at the tournament with a squad largely deprived of stand-out talents that many believed to be the country's weakest in a long time.

Their victory over Belgium suggested otherwise and midfielder Alessandro Florenzi believes the Azzurri can prove the doubters wrong again today.

"We are a very close group and most of the merit goes to the coach (Antonio Conte), who has been able to transmit his values," the Roma player said.

Conte, who will step down as coach at the end of the tournament to join Chelsea, said: "I think I have a group of lads who are very focused and determined, and who take pride in doing things well.


"I'm certain that one single game will not change their attitude. It was a good performance against Belgium, but we've not done anything yet. We have our feet firmly on the ground.

"We just have to concentrate on what we are doing. We've got to give the best we can to reach our first objective, which is the last 16.

"We've got to attack them as a team. In defence the problem is not only Ibrahimovic. It could also be (Emil) Forsberg or (John) Guidetti; it could be their set-pieces."

Sweden coach Erik Hamrén, who must plan without Mikael Lustig, said: "Italy perhaps don't have the big stars they used to, but they are still very strong.

"We have to get more right than we get wrong, for sure. We need to be very effective. We probably won't get many chances so we have to take what we get.

"We are going to have to run a lot, but we need to use our heads too."

Italy (probable): Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva, Florenzi, De Rossi, Giaccherini, De Sciglio; Pellè, Éder.

Sweden (probable): Isaksson; Lindelöf, Granqvist, Johansson, Olsson; Larsson, Ekdal, Källström, Forsberg; Guidetti, Ibrahimovic.

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