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England vs. Italy: Without Gianluigi Buffon, should Italy worry?

Italy goes up against England without their star keeper, Gianluigi Buffon. But this could be the coming out party for Buffon's heir apparent: Salvatore Sirigu

REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
Italy's national goalkeepers Salvatore Sirigu (left) and Gianluigi Buffon watch during a practice session ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Mangaratiba, Brazil.

Should Italian football fans be worried that the great Gianluigi Buffon won't be in goal against England Saturday?

Probably not.

Yes, Buffon is a legend. He's been Italy's goalkeeper for, well, forever, it seems. You have to go back to before the 2002 World Cup when he wasn't in the net for the Italian team. But he was on the World Cup team in 1998. And when he does take the pitch in Brazil, he'll be among only three other players history to have been on five World Cup teams.

But Buffon reportedly tweaked an ankle so he'll be sitting out Italy's first game. That means his heir apparent, Salvatore Sirigu, will be protecting the net.

And, arguably, that could be good news for Italian fans.

"Sirigu is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. I've been convinced of that for a long time," writes Renato Maisani, assistant editor of in Italy. "It's clear that he lacks the international experience that Buffon has but Italy have not had a No. 2 like this since the days of Francesco Toldo."

Italian fans saw Sirigu in the net just last month when Italy fought Ireland to a 0-0 result.

"Sirigu’s most notable quality is his shot-stopping, as he possesses sharp reflexes, impressive agility and strong wrists, attributes that he had to display several times last month when his acrobatic saves allowed Italy to escape with a 0-0 draw from their game with Ireland at Craven Cottage. Last season he also had to demonstrate his concentration skills by producing smart saves after long periods of inactivity due to PSG’s dominance of most matches in Ligue 1," writes The Guardian's Paul Doyle.

Sirigu has played with French club Paris St-Germain since 2011. Since then, the team has won two league titles and Sirigu was voted the 2014 goalkeeper of the year in Ligue 1. In 2013, he broke Bernard Lama's PSG record of 697 minutes without conceding a goal, and posted seven successive "clean sheets" (shutouts) with PSG.

Sirgu was on the 2010 Italian World Cup team but didn't play. With Buffon on the sideline, Sirgu's appearance in the 2014 World Cup opener could mark the beginning of a new era for Italian soccer.

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