Dino Zoff and Gianluigi Buffon: World Champions who couldn’t conquer Europe
Gianluigi Buffon is unlikely to feature when Juventus face Napoli in the Coppa Italia while the man he looks to emulate as the oldest World Cup winner next summer, Dino Zoff, turns 75
In the absence of a candidate for the title of being the greatest-ever Azzurri custodian, it is fitting that as the 75-year-old reaches this milestone birthday, two sides he served so well meet in Turin.
However, while the 1982 world champion is widely remembered for a trophy-laden spell with the Bianconeri, it is worth noting that the Old Lady and Inter both initially rejected him for a lack of height.
Italian football actually owes a debt of gratitude to Udinese, for giving the youngster his first taste of Serie A action five years later, although they were relegated that same season.
A year was spent in Serie B as No.1 for the Friulian club and a Mediterranean Games gold medal was won with Italy Under-23s but Udinese struggled in the second division so it was a move to Mantova which took Zoff back into Serie A.
Continuing to impress with his safe handling and conservative approach during four seasons in with the Virgilliani, the Partenopei swooped in to take Zoff to the south of the peninsula in 1967.
It was in Naples that the shot-stopper would experience his first taste of senior silverware, albeit for Italy, after making his debut in the quarter-final of the 1968 European Championship – lifting the trophy four games later.
Whether a lack of honours domestically was a factor or not, though, he lost the No.1 jersey – although wore 22 in 1968 – for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Then, in 1972, he joined Juventus 12 years after their initial knockback and a bounty of medals were thrust upon the goalkeeper, as the Bianconeri nearly clinched a historic treble. Such was Zoff’s contribution to the Old Lady’s success during the 1972-73 campaign, he was voted second behind Johan Cruyff for the Ballon d’Or.
Over a decade in Turin, the veteran won six Scudetti, two Coppa Italias, a UEFA Cup and made a club record 330 consecutive appearances. However, like Buffon, the goalkeeper watched the European Cup slip away for a second time in 1983 with a 1-0 loss to Hamburger SV.
As with ‘Gigi’ in 2006, though, victory at Spain ‘82 was the crowning achievement of Zoff’s playing career, producing a vital late stop against favourites Brazil to take them into the semi-finals, and he was named as goalkeeper of the tournament.
With practically 14 years between the beginning and end of a 112-cap Azzurri career, he remains the only Italian to hold both European Championship and World Cup winners’ medals.
Like many great players, though, his managerial career could not match his achievements on the pitch, despite an auspicious start when he led Juventus to UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia in his second campaign.
A third-place finish in Serie A that season, though, saw the Bianconeri hierarchy dispense with his services, and the next step was a mixed spell at Lazio where he attempted to control English maverick Paul Gascoigne.
Trophyless in the capital, the national side still appointed him in 1998, but that ended in agonising circumstances when France defeated Italy by Golden Goal in the 2000 European Championship final after Sylvain Wiltord equalised three minutes into stoppage time.
Returning to the Biancocelesti was a poisoned chalice after they had just clinched the double under Sven-Goran Eriksson, and Zoff walked away three games into the 2001-02 campaign after leading them to third the previous season.
Heading to the opposite end of Serie A failed to prove any more fruitful for the tactician, as saving Fiorentina from relegation still resulted in his dismissal.
However, like many legends of the game who have stepped into coaching, Zoff will forever be remembered for his achievements on the pitch rather than off it. Whether he is surpassed by Buffon in Russia next summer or not, his record will never be forgotten.