Date: 10th December 2011 at 12:09pm
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Both Dino Zoff and Gianluigi Buffon have represented the Azzurri and their respective clubs with honour and dedication.  Both dominated the era they played in and gained great success in their careers, but who could be considered the best Italian keeper?

Many fans and pundits consider Buffon to be the greatest keeper of modern times, but is this due to the fact that Zoff’s playing days are in the past and his achievements have been eclipsed, or that merely with Buffon still playing he is at the forefront of peoples minds?  For me though it has to be Zoff, mainly due to his attitude towards his personal performances and the unbelievable records that he achieved.

Between them they have won almost everything and they can’t be separated in terms of on the field success – Zoff has won the World Cup (as captain), six Serie A titles, the European Cup and two Italian cups.  If you look beyond the trophies Zoff has set and still holds some outstanding records, including the record for number of matches played in the Italian Serie A: 570 (4 with Udinese , 93 with Mantova, 143 with Napoli and 330 with Juventus); a record he held until 2006.

As Juventus’ goalkeeper he didn’t miss a single game over 11 years, a total of 330 matches in a row in Serie A. Another record is his number of games played with the Azzurri (112) and number of minutes played without conceding (1143), (from the 73rd minute of Italy-Yugoslavia-3-1 the 20th of September 1972 until the 46th minute of Italy-Haiti-3-1 the 15th of June 1974.

These string of records cemented Zoff as a star keeper during his career and no-one could come close to his ability during his peak years.  Buffon has won pretty much everything too; the 2006 World Cup, the UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia, Serie A twice and Serie B, along with UEFA Under 21 European Championships in 1996.  Personal records include being named Serie A goalkeeper of the year a record eight times and in 2003 he received UEFA’s award for Most Valuable Player and Best Goalkeeper.  Recentley he equalled Zoff’s record as the third most capped player for Italy.

Both men have been stalwarts for Juventus and provided years of dedicated service and captained their country at the World Cup.  In the 2006 World Cup Buffon kept five clean sheets and went 453 minutes without conceding.  He only conceded two goals – one an own goal and the other a Zinidine Zidane penalty in the final.  Some would argue that this great achievement could be  equal to Zoff’s record of 1143 minutes without conceding due to the fact the opposition faced were tougher and he did not concede a goal from an opposing player in open play.

Zoff’s defining characteristic was his belief that he was only as good as his last performance and that he could always better himself.  This mentality served him well and kept him focused and sharp, never letting complacency set in. He was a perfectionist and openly admitted that he demanded the best of himself,  ‘I have never felt too confident and secure as a player, and now, when I look back at myself again I understand that I was right. I’m still not completely satisfied with what I have been able to do”. Every game was a new test for Zoff and his high standards pushed him to the top of his game, even in his latter years,  ‘I played until the age of 41 just because I believe that it’s always possible to make improvements”

Over the last few years Buffon has struggled with injury, something that never plagued Zoff.  This was put down to his fearsome desire to constantly better himself, and this mentality gives him the edge over Buffon.  To be able to play 330 consecutive games for the same team shows the stamina and strength Zoff possessed, especially when these consecutive appearances were later in his career.  For a young keeper to make this record would be fantastic, but for a man who was edging towards the end of his career to stay injury free and see off any challenges to his starting place is incredible.

Some might argue that as an experienced pro it would be easier for Zoff than someone in the middle of their career to appear week-in week-out for their club, but with age and experience come more injuries and setbacks.  Just look at Edwin Van Der Sar who retired last year, even he was not playing every game for Manchester United for the past few seasons.  That demonstrates what a colossal achievement it was for Zoff to consistently take his place between the sticks.

Both are outstanding keepers but if it comes down to mental strength and stamina then for me Zoff is the better keeper.  They may have matched each other in trophies and ability, but the single pointed desire of Zoff’s to constantly better him self sets him apart from Buffon.

Who do you think was better? Leave a comment below.

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