FIFA 2010 World Cup: Gigi Buffon Out Injured, So What Now for Lippi's Italy?

Adam DigbyFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2010

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 13:  Head coach Marcello Lippi of Italy jokes with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (R) during an Italian training session at the 2010 FIFA World Cup at Green Point stadium on June 13, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Make no mistake, Gianluigi Buffon's back injury is a huge blow to Italy's hopes of defending the World Cup. Arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet, Gigi is the one player Marcello Lippi can ill-afford to lose.

The Azzurri are not as blessed as they have been in the past in the goalkeeper position. There is no close call - "Superman" is head and shoulders above his rivals. Were Spain or Brazil to lose their first choice, they have more than capable deputies ready and waiting to don the gloves.

Coming on as a substitute in the Paraguay match, Cagliari's Federico Marchetti earned only his sixth cap. The 27-year-old is something of a late bloomer, bouncing around the lower leagues over the past six years before finding a home in Serie A in Sardinia.

He has no experience of European football, and clearly this lack of major games could prove vital. The one positive for Italy is that their next two games are against New Zealand and Slovakia, after which Buffon may return.

Italy faced the All-Whites in South Africa last year as they warmed up for the Confederations Cup. Marcello Lippi used the game to test some younger players, and in particular Marco Amelia, the Genoa goalkeeper. His career is remarkably similar to that of Marchetti, and that should set alarm bells ringing for Marcello Lippi.

The friendly quickly became a nightmare for the reserve keeper, beaten easily by two headers, then giving away a penalty. This has seen him cast to the International wilderness, and while Marchetti is a much more impressive player, perhaps a team as physical as New Zealand mean Napoli's Morgan De Sanctis maybe the sensible option.

At 33, it is perhaps easy to see why Lippi went with the younger man against Paraguay, with only ten minutes to warm up, the last thing Italy needed was a second injury. De Sanctis made three appearances for Juventus, spent time at Seville, and has UEFA Cup and Champions League experience from his time at Udinese.

He is slightly taller than Marchetti too, making New Zealand's aerial threat easier to contend with. He has only three caps to his name, but was part of both the Euro 2008 and Confederations Cup 2009 squads. All of this makes him the better option for Sunday's match.

If Italy top Group F, their second round opponent is likely to be a much easier test, which gives Buffon much longer to recover. Italy cannot afford to risk him if not fully fit, but similarly cannot afford to be without their one truly world class player once the tougher opponents begin to line up against the Azzurri.

Get well soon Gigi!

This article first appeared on the Il Tifosi blog