Cream of the Crop: How Gianluigi Buffon's Career Compares to Other Modern Italian Goalkeepers

When it comes to the essential last line of defence, Italy is a nation that can boast the kind of goalkeeping depth that most countries can only look at with envy. From generation to generation, the peninsula have had a rare ability to consistently replace goalkeeping greats with equally talented goalkeepers.

With Gianluigi Buffon recently turning 40 and announcing his international retirement after Italy's failure to qualify for Russia next summer, Italy now have the precocious talent of AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma waiting to grab his chance in the national side. 

Even through the early development of football as an international game, the Azzurri could always rely on some iconic names to stand between the posts and save the day. That grand tradition has certainly carried on through contrasting generations to the modern day.

The most famous Italian club sides have always boasted a top class 'Italian' goalkeeper, from Il Grande Torino to the all-powerful AC Milan sides that dominated the early 1990s, with the national team benefiting immensely from this seemingly endless production line of talent. 

So where do the these talents rank amongst their goalkeeping peers in establishing who had the most defining career with their national side?  

5. Francesco Toldo

Years active for the national side: 1995-2004

International caps: 28

International honours: Euro 2000 runner-up, Francesco Toldo was also named in the team of the tournament for his outstanding performances. In addition, the former Fiorentina and Inter  Milan goalkeeper was an unused reserve in Italy's squads for the 1998, 2002 World Cups and Euro 2004. 

Playing Style: A consistent, agile and reactive goalkeeper, Toldo was also competent with the ball at his feet and made a name for himself as a penalty saving specialist throughout his career for club and country. Toldo stood out for his composure and mentality in goal. In spite of his large and imposing physique, he was known for his ability to get to ground quickly to parry low shots.

4. Walter Zenga

Years active for the national side: 1987-1992

International caps: 58

International honours: Walter Zenga played in the 1988 Euro Championships where they lost in the semi final to the Soviet Union. He remained Italy's No.1 for the 1990 World Cup, where they finished third beating England 2-1 in the play off game. During the aforementioned World Cup, he set a record of five consecutive clean sheets and a total of 518 minutes without conceding a goal; a record still standing now for the competition. 

Playing Style: Zenga was known as an aggressive and athletic goalkeeper. His nickname was Deltaplano (Hang-glider) due to his shot-stopping, explosive reactions and high level of bravery. Zenga was especially quick across his line and this allowed for him to make speculator saves. Dealing with the ball at his feet was an issue, but with his positive nature, he commanded his area and demanded the respect of his adversaries. 

3. Gianluca Pagluica

Years active for the national side: 1990-1998

International caps: 39

International honours: Gianluca Pagluica played in two World Cups. His first competition was in 1994 where they finished runners-up after losing on penalties to Brazil. During the final, he earned the accolade of being the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in a shoot out in a World Cup final. In 1998, the Azzurri reached the quarter finals, losing to hosts and eventual winners France in yet another absorbing penalty shoot out. 

Playing Style: An agile and reliable goalkeeper, Pagluica was renowned for his excellent reactions, diving saves and penalty-stopping abilities. In addition to being very gifted with his distribution, he also possessed good positional sense which allowed for him to spot danger early. Although he was capable of coming off the line to deal with crosses, this was a facet of his game that wasn't as dominant. Nicknamed The Wall, due to his goalkeeping prowess and consistency, he also distinguished himself by having a strong temperament and resilient attitude.  

2. Gianluigi Buffon

Years active for the national side: 1997-2017

International caps: 175

International honours: Gianluigi Buffon first experienced significant success with the Azzurri when they won the 2006 World Cup in Germany beating France in the final on penalties. Buffon was voted in the team of tournament with his 40 saves after he had an outstanding competition. 

World Cups: 2002 - Last 16, 2006 - Winner, 2010 and 2014 - Group stages

Italy then followed up there World Cup triumph by finishing as runners up in the 2012 Euros to Spain who comprehensively beat them 4-0 in the final. 

European Championships: 2004 - Group stages, 2008 - Quarter Finals, 2012 - Final and 2016 - Quarter Finals

Playing Style: A consistent performer at the highest level, he is a huge presence for both club and country. Agile and commanding he has shown that he can confidently deal with saving shots, and is not afraid to come off his line to collect crosses and sweep up to relieve the pressure on his defenders. Buffon is vocal and a demanding character who expects his team mates to strive for perfection in their own performance and leads by example. He has had a stellar career, and has been able to showcase his talents for the last two decades which reflects a remarkable sense of positioning, anticipation, technical skill and athleticism. Buffon will certainly go down as a modern great who will inspire the next generation of goalkeepers with his style of play.   

1. Dino Zoff

Years active for the national side: 1968-1983

International caps: 112

International honours:  The Azzurri won the 1982 World Cup in Spain, defeating West Germany 3-1 in the final. Dino Zoff was captain of his country, and at the age of 40, was the oldest ever World Cup winner; a record held still to this day. In the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Zoff played his part to help the Azzurri to 4th place after losing 2-1 to Holland in the semi final. Furthermore, Zoff was also part of the 1970 squad which finished runners up to Brazil, but was understudy to Enrico Albertosi. In the 1974 World Cup in Germany, he had regained his starting position, however Italy failed to advance beyond their group.

A young Zoff was part of the victorious Italian side that won the European Championships on home soil in 1968, Zoff was even voted goalkeeper of the tournament in his first major competition. The Azzurri next qualified for the Euros in 1980 which Italy hosted with much hope expected of a repeat victory as in 1968; however Zoff's side finished a disappointing 4th. 

Playing Style: A gifted athlete Zoff preferred being effective and understated in his approach. Due to his small stature - 5'11'' - positioning and handling became important components of his weaponry. Throughout his career, Zoff showed a strong mindset which allowed him to remain concentrated for long periods, and also enabled him to communicate effectively with his team mates. An unflappable character, he had an insatiable desire to improve his game and would work hard on areas of weakness. Even with his height being a disadvantage, he was confident and had belief in his own ability especially when dealing with crosses, which was recognised as a strength. In 1999 Zoff was voted as the 3rd best goalkeeper of the 20th century behind England's Gordon Banks and the Soviet Union's Lev Yashin.