Gianluigi Buffon cradles the ball in Italy's September World Cup qualifier
With Halloween falling this week, let's take a look at a situation that will frighten every Italian soccer fan: an injury to Gianluigi Buffon.
Fans of the Azzurri have gone through this harrowing situation before. At the World Cup in 2010, Buffon injured his back before Italy's opening match and had to be withdrawn at halftime. The result was abysmal.
Buffon's understudy—whom we'll meet later in this countdown—allowed four goals on five shots on target over the next two games, and the Italians crashed out of the competition.
Buffon has been relatively healthy since returning from that injury, but the Italian captain is 35 years old now. His form has been spottier than usual, and even though Cesare Prandelli said last week that his spot as Italy's No. 1 is secure, it may be prudent to evaluate who might play behind Italy's most-capped player.
Let's take a look at the four best options to be Buffon's understudy come the World Cup this summer, in ascending order of likelihood to be Prandelli's No. 2.
Emiliano Viviano secures the ball while deputizing for an injured Buffon during Euro 2012 qualifying in 2010.
Last called up for last year's friendly against France, Viviano is a long shot for making the roster for Brazil. Currently the property of Palermo, he's on loan to Arsenal, where he's serving behind Wojciech Szczensy and Lukasz Fabianski.
Viviano is one of the few Italian goalkeepers not named Buffon with experience in competitive matches over the last two decades. He's racked up six full caps, three of which came during qualifying for Euro 2012, while Gigi Buffon was recovering from the back injury he suffered during the World Cup.
It would take more than one major injury to get Viviano regular playing time at the Emirates, and without that playing time, it's unlikely he would make the World Cup roster. Still, he has competition experience and was the team's No. 1 at the 2008 Olympics. Prandelli could do worse than the Brescia product.
Morgan De Sanctis marshals the Italian defense in Italy's 2-1 victory over Denmark at the San Siro in 2012.
Morgan De Sanctis is long in the tooth—at 36, he's a year older than Buffon—but it's hard to ignore a man whose team has given up only one goal through 10 games.
His last game for Italy was last year's World Cup qualifier against Denmark. Italy emerged from the San Siro 2-1 winners, but De Sanctis showed his age in that match. Denmark's lone goal was a volleyed effort from William Kvist, but the shot didn't live up to the contact. Far from a screamer into the top corner, Kvist's shot bounced into the net—and a sprier keeper probably would have gotten to the ball.
That goal, coupled with the three he allowed in a friendly loss to Russia on the eve of Euro 2012, prompted an article from this writer, advocating his demotion from the No. 2 spot.
Despite his age, his performance in goal for Roma this year is difficult to ignore. He also has experience coming along to major tournaments. He has been along for the ride at two European Championships, a Confederations Cup and a World Cup. In addition, he has six caps—a high number for an Italian not named Buffon.
De Sanctis might not be a top-of-the-line goalkeeper anymore, but he might be valuable off the bench if the unthinkable happens. Given Roma's form this year, he could muscle his way back onto one last squad.
Federico Marchetti facing Armenia in World Cup qualifying last month.
Federico Marchetti was Buffon's backup during Italy's ill-fated World Cup run in 2010.
It was awful.
The only thing that he seemed to do in South Africa was to pick the ball out of his own net. He made a single save while watching New Zealand and Slovakia put four balls past him.
At Lazio, he slowly resurrected his career. He is once again one of the best-regarded goalkeepers in Italy, and after a three-year absence, he has reappeared in the national team picture.
Despite his re-emergence, he may not be the best choice for Buffon's top understudy. He started in Italy's final World Cup qualifier against Armenia last month and had an uneven game. He let in a pair of goals in a 2-2 draw that dropped the Italians out of the seeded pot for December's World Cup draw.
Marchetti is certainly a better goalkeeper than he was in 2010, but he's a third option at best. There is one better option at Cesare Prandelli's disposal...
Salvatore Sirigu barks out orders in Italy's first Euro 2012 qualifier against Estonia.
Salvatore Sirigu is the best Italian goalkeeper not named Buffon.
Three years ago Sirigu was the very first man that Cesare Prandelli tapped to replace Buffon while he recovered from the back injury he suffered in South Africa. He started for Italy in their first two games after the World Cup—a friendly and a Euro 2012 qualifier—before a slight injury opened the door for Emiliano Viviano to claim the starting role until Buffon returned.
Sirigu was playing for Palermo at the time, and in the 2010-11 season, he started all but one game for the Rosaneri. He had beaten out Rubinho for the starting job by impressing then-coach Walter Zenga in matches against Lazio and Juventus in 2009-10. By the end of the '10-11 season, he had attracted the attention of French nouveau-riche side Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG decided that Sirigu was the perfect man to tend the goal for their planned ascent up the Ligue 1 ranks and purchased him for €3.5 million in the summer of 2011.
He has since become a favorite of the notoriously fickle fans at the Parc des Princes. In his first two years at PSG, he made 209 saves in league play, according to ESPNFC. During the last two years, he has also proved that he can handle the heightened level of competition of Champions League play.
Sirigu anchors the defense of France's best team and is the only goalkeeper in the national team picture besides Buffon to have competed in the Champions League in the past two seasons. At 26 years of age, he's the best man for the job as Buffon's primary deputy in Brazil next summer.