Italy's camp abuzz with worry over Buffon's back
There was a worrisome buzz pervading Italy's training camp Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with vuvuzelas.
With Gianluigi Buffon undergoing tests on his injured back, the fear was that the Azzurri might have to complete the World Cup without their standout goalkeeper.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini, a teammate of Buffon with both Italy and Juventus, already knows what it's like to play without Buffon. When Buffon missed several stretches with knee, thigh and back problems at Juventus this past season, Juventus struggled, too.
"A good goalkeeper is just as valuable as a striker who scores a lot of goals," Chiellini said. "It's obvious how much he's worth to the team."
When Italy won the 2006 World Cup, Buffon was beaten only once in open play over seven matches - and that was an own goal by Cristian Zaccardo against the United States. He also conceded a goal to Paraguay following a free kick - but wasn't to blame - in Italy's opener at this tournament Monday, then was substituted after halftime due to a problem with the left side of his sciatic nerve.
Team physician Enrico Castellacci said Tuesday that no date could be set for Buffon's return.
Italy next faces New Zealand on Sunday, then closes out Group F play against Slovakia four days later.
Federico Marchetti replaced Buffon for the second half against Paraguay and was never really tested. Marchetti has had two solid seasons with small Serie A club Cagliari, but was playing in Serie B with Albinoleffe as recently as 2008.
Somewhat similarly to Marchetti, Chiellini was rushed into the starting team at the 2008 European Championship when captain Fabio Cannavaro injured his ankle during Italy's opening training session in Austria.
Despite that experience, Chiellini was leaving it up to Buffon to offer psychological encouragement for Marchetti.
"Goalkeepers live in their own world, so I think the best person to help him out is Gigi. The only thing I can provide is tranquillity. He doesn't need my advice," Chiellini said. "He's got a lot of quality and he won't have any problem replacing Gigi."
Napoli's Morgan De Sanctis is now Marchetti's backup.
If Buffon is ruled out, there is speculation Italy could appeal to FIFA to fly in Palermo goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who was the fourth goalkeeper on the Azzurri's 30-man preliminary squad.
With standout midfielder Andrea Pirlo also out with a left calf injury, and Mauro Camoranesi, Claudio Marchisio and Daniele De Rossi also battling through minor aches and pains during Italy's pre-World Cup camp, the question has been raised if Italy made any mistakes in its preparations.
Chiellini, however, said the injuries were simply a result of playing the World Cup immediately after a long Serie A season.
"When you play every three days without any rest you're going to have injuries," Chiellini said.