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Predictable Ramos rashness bails out prophetic Buffon´s blunder

Italy’s 1-1 draw with Spain will be best remembered for two shocking moments in two days from Gianluigi Buffon.

The veteran goalkeeper’s place in the side has been nigh on sacrosanct ever since his debut in October 1997, but he stunned onlookers when he called it into question himself on Wednesday as he spoke of Iker Casillas’ absence from the Spain squad.

“It does seem strange,” he said. “It’s a sign that we’re reaching our sell-by date.”

Stranger still was the sight of Buffon justifying his own concerns. The 38-year-old had not been unduly tested in Turin for the opening 55 minutes, despite Spain’s dominance, but he gifted them the breakthrough with such a spectacular error that even the travelling supporters seemed momentarily stupefied.

Racing out to intercept Sergio Busquet’s long pass, his sliding lunge bypassed both the ball and Vitolo, allowing the Sevilla man to slot into the unguarded net.

Buffon was in goal the last time Italy lost a World Cup qualifier back in 2004, away to Slovenia. That he has been their undisputed number one on a 12-year unbeaten run says enough about his enduring excellence, and made this blunder all-the-more remarkable.

The Juventus veteran was largely a spectator a little over three months ago, when Antonio Conte’s voracious side battered Spain into submission in the second round of Euro 2016. This was a very different encounter.

Italy, 2-0 winners on that day in Paris, failed to record a shot on target in Turin before Daniele De Rossi’s late penalty salvaged a result on Thursday. Spain had three, from a total of 13 efforts. They also had 72 per cent possession, 13 corners and nearly double the home side’s number of passes.

The fact that it still was not enough to beat Italy will come as a concern for new coach Julen Lopetegui, as will another frustrating display from Diego Costa, who was lucky not to get a second booking for booting the ball away after an offside call.

There was, however, a clear culprit behind their failure to hold on to the win. If Buffon’s howler came as a shock, the latest Sergio Ramos moment of madness was frustratingly familiar.

The 30-year-old remains one of the finest ball-playing central defenders in modern football, but he has been an accident waiting to happen this season and gifted Italy their salvation here.

He has conceded three penalties for Real Madrid this term, one of which was awarded for a handball offence he had got away with in a 2-0 win against Espanyol. Against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, he lost possession to give the home side a late free-kick, and Madrid lost their 2-1 lead.

Neither Ramos nor Gerard Pique had been given much of a task as Spain’s midfield dominance kept the home side pinned in their own half, but his rash decision to try to intercept Andrea Belotti’s cut-back saw him clip Eder and send him crashing to the floor. 

It was a clear penalty to everyone present – except referee Felix Brych, who only gave it after consulting with the fifth official – and De Rossi snatched a little-deserved point to ensure Ramos was duly punished.

Italy remain unbeaten in 50 home World Cup qualifiers, and Spain have not tasted defeat in 55 of their own, home and away. With four points each from two games in Group G, there is no reason to suspect that neither side will fail to qualify, nor indeed that Buffon or Ramos will not play their part.

But even though they’re not out of date just yet, they’re not quite at their ripest. And with less than two years to go until the finals in Russia, that will come as a slight concern.

Thu 6 Oct, 2016
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