Gianluigi Buffon has described Italy centre-half Leonardo Bonucci as “one of the best in the world in his position” as he prepares to come up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic – a former Juventus team-mate of Buffon – will spearhead the Sweden attack in Toulouse on Friday against an Italy side brimming with confidence following their 2-0 win over Belgium.
And while Buffon concedes the Azzurri are “wary” of Ibrahimovic, he is confident Bonucci, who forms a part of an all-Juve back three alongside Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, will cope.
He said: “Everyone can see the attributes that Leo has. He’s the defensive playmaker of our team because he’s brilliant at playing the ball out from the back.
“He’s got great feet and the courage to play these risky passes and start these audacious moves. I think that he’s improved enormously over the past few years. I really think that he’s the complete player and one of the best in the world in his position.”
Buffon believes the relationships forged at club level can only help the national side, adding: “With all the defences I’ve played with, I’ve always had a special rapport.
“I think that’s the most important ingredient when it comes to achieving success. With these guys, we’ve been playing together for a number of years. We’re a fully-functioning unit, like clockwork, we know each other well, even off the pitch.
“However, one can never afford to relax at this level. That’s why if we want to come off the pitch with a good result, we have to be focused and prepare well.”
Their main focus will be on Ibrahimovic, the scorer of a stunning back-heeled volley against Italy at Euro 2004.
“It was a great goal,” admitted Buffon, “although I didn’t fully appreciate that wonderful technical ability until a few years later [when they were together at Juve].
“Back then, though, he was clearly special but he was still quite young and we weren’t quite sure how to understand how far he would go.
“Twelve years on, he’s already achieved so many things and won so many titles – and he’s already scored that kind of goal three or four times. It’s become his specialty. When he does things like that these days, it’s no longer a surprise.
“Clearly we are very wary of him. He’s one of a small group of absolute superstars that always make the difference for the teams that they play for.
“But clearly Sweden are not a one-man team, they have a number of other great players. But clearly a talent like his, and his belief in himself that he is a superstar, is not something you see in the other players. But for myself and my team-mates in the back-line, he’s going to be very dangerous.”
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