Marchetti prepared to replace Buffon

Marchetti prepared to replace Buffon

Published Jun. 17, 2010 2:11 p.m. ET

It's easy to believe Italy's new starting goalkeeper when he says he has luck on his side.

Federico Marchetti had already lost his two best friends to auto accidents when he and two teammates at fourth-division side Pro Vercelli emerged uninjured from an auto accident themselves five years ago.

"When you stare death in the face, it leaves something inside you," Marchetti said Thursday. "It's tough to describe. It was a terrible experience but one that I'll never forget."

The accident inspired Marchetti to live each day as it comes and take advantage of his chances.


Since the accident, Marchetti has climbed his way to the top division and become a member of Italy's national team.

Now, with first-choice goalkeeper Gianlugi Buffon out due to a herniated disk, the 27-year-old Marchetti has the biggest chance of his life in Sunday's World Cup match against New Zealand.

"I'm sure my friends are watching me from up above and that they'll be pleased for me," said Marchetti, who wears the names of his deceased friends in a tattoo on one arm, with a Hail Mary on the other. "I'm convinced someone is watching out for me."

In 2005, Marchetti's football career nearly ended. He had been a member of Torino's youth system since he was 14 but the Turin club was facing financial failure and let all its players ago.

It wasn't until June 2006, when Albinoleffe paid 500 euros ($620) for Marchetti's services that his career started to turn around.

When Paolo Acerbis decided not to renew his contract, Marchetti became the starter and made his debut in the second division against none other than Buffon - since Juventus had been relegated to Serie B for a season following the Italian match-fixing scandal.

Marchetti matched Buffon and contained Juve's strikers in a 1-1 draw, raising eyebrows around the league.

"Maybe Torino's failure was a good thing in the end," Marchetti said. "I ended up at Albinoleffe and was able to show my worth."

Serie A's Cagliari paid Albinoleffe 2.4 million euros ($3 million) for a portion of Marchetti's contract in July, 2008 - then 4.5 million euros ($5.5 million) the next season for his full rights and Marchetti has become one of the most reliable 'keepers in the top Italian league the past two seasons.

His worth now is estimated at 12-15 million euros ($15-$18.5 million). That's not bad considering Marchetti played forward as a kid.

"I ended up a goalkeeper by accident," he recalled. "I used to play in attack but one day with the town team it was raining and nasty and a lot of kids were kept home by their mothers, including the goalkeeper, so I played in goal and that's when I fell in love with the position."

Millions will be watching his every move against New Zealand, which specializes in set pieces.

While he didn't face many shots, Marchetti didn't allow any goals in the second half of Italy's opening 1-1 draw with Paraguay, which Buffon exited at halftime. But New Zealand's free kicks could be made more dangerous due to the widely criticized Jabulani ball.

"We know the ball is unpredictable, and at night the balls get wet and really skid, so I'll have to be ready," he said. "This is a huge opportunity and I want to take full advantage of it."