Football

Buffon calls on Italy to be calm and for fans to carry team

Italy must not panic as they bid to avoid missing a World Cup for the first time in 60 years, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said after a 1-0 play-off first-leg defeat by Sweden pushed them to the brink of disaster.

The 39-year-old Buffon - bidding to reach a record sixth World Cup Finals in Russia - is one of the last survivors of Italy's golden generation of 2006 World Cup winners.

But an Azzurri performance in Stockholm branded "ugly and confused" leaves Italy with all to play for in tomorrow morning's second leg in Milan as they bid to avoid missing out on the World Cup Finals for the first time since 1958.

"We need to be as clear headed as possible to go to the World Cup," said captain Buffon, who conceded a goal by Swedish substitute Jakob Johansson that was deflected by Daniele de Rossi.

"We know we've lost, but we have another 90 minutes to overcome this complicated situation. The first rule is not to cry over it.

"I expect a full San Siro to carry this team through. I don't want to think it's the game of life but I'm convinced that, with the help of the fans, we will do it.

"We must be confident in the return leg, otherwise we have already lost."

Buffon, who has a record 174 Italy caps, added: "You have to keep your head high... There are another 90 minutes and we want to make the most of it."

But former Italy international Andrea Pirlo believes it is dangerous for the four-time World Cup winners to rely too heavily on the atmosphere generated by 65,000 frenetic fans in the San Siro.

"The San Siro doesn't score, I've never seen a fan score," said Pirlo, a member of the 2006 World Cup-winning team who announced last week he was retiring from football.

"It will be tough for coach Gian Piero Ventura to find the right words to say to the group... There will be two very intense days, full of pressure."

While Pirlo acknowledges that the team "seemed frustrated", he insists that he is quietly confident of them getting through, saying: "I like this Italy." - WIRE SERVICES

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