Gianluigi Buffon confirms surprise return for Italy in March friendlies

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Relive ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti’s passionate response after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Gianluigi Buffon confirmed he will accept an invitation to play for Italy in their upcoming friendlies with Argentina and England after caretaker coach Luigi Di Biagio said he wanted to count on the 40-year-old for what could prove to be his only games in charge.

Buffon appeared to have retired from international football after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup, but he is set for two more appearances after telling Mediaset that he could never turn down a call-up for his country.

“There’s nothing to add other than that I feel a sense of responsibility and faith which I still feel I must give to the national team during this transitional moment,” Buffon said. “There is a cycle of delicate friendly games and I thought I would go on holiday for a few days, but when the national team needs you, you have got to be present and not desert them. It’s a form of faithfulness and responsibility towards Italy.

“A new Italy national team is being born and the first games are hardly easy. We face Argentina and England and I think that a few experienced players will be useful at the start.”

After those two games, Buffon may then decide to call it a day from international football, although it is not yet certain he will hang up his gloves for good in the summer.

“I just want to focus on the end of the season now,” Buffon said. “I’m convinced and relaxed about whatever my decision will be, which will be announced together with the club at the right moment.

“For those who live life with such strong emotions as us footballers, stopping playing is like the first death that you suffer, because it’s the end of such a beautiful experience that anything else does not seem to matter. But then, with time, you realise that there are other things which still make you feel important.”

At a news conference on Monday, Di Biagio also hinted that Mario Balotelli may be part of his squad selection and Buffon said he would welcome the former Manchester City and Liverpool forward’s return.

“I’d be delighted if Mario came back because he would have the opportunity to demonstrate he has matured 100 percent,” Buffon said. “He could show that he has continuity and that he’s become a great footballer.

“I think that what Balotelli has done over the past two years warrants a recall to the national team. He’s hugely talented and he’s never had this continuity, but the hope is there that he has fully matured.

“I’ve only seen the same power and precision of shot as he has from [Francesco] Totti.”

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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