Gianluigi Buffon said on Sunday that Tuesday's final Group C pool decider against France would be “the match of our lives” with both sides needing to win to reach the last eight.
“After suffering a defeat such as that we had against Holland to start the competition you either roll over or you appeal to your pride and that's what we did against Romania,” said Buffon, who made a fantastic penalty save from Adrian Mutu to prevent the Italians going behind 2-1 late in the second-half and where defeat would have had them on an early plane home.
“We tried right to the end and our shirts were drenched in sweat – that shows we did all we could” to get the three points.
The draw against the Romanians has left the world champions needing to repeat their 2006 World Cup success over Les Bleus if they are to go any further in the tournament – though were Romania to beat Holland it would make it superfluous.
“Like ourselves, France will be surprised only to have mustered one point after two matches.
“But it seems that Italy are on better form as we have come off a good match,” the 1-1 draw which could easily have been more against the Eastern Europeans, whereas the French slid to a 4-1 loss to Holland last time out.
“I think we have a greater chance of going through but when it comes down to one match it's like a final. We have shown some signs of recovery and where they are concerned we will have to see how they are going to recover from the hiding against the Dutch.
“We must concentrate on our match without getting lost in making too many calculations. We have to go out there and play the match of our lives,” said the Juventus stopper, who added that Italy could not have become a bad side overnight.
“The World Cup was not a fluke. If we get to the quarters it will mean we will have come up with a little extra. It's normal to feel the pressure and I am dying to get out there and play. A double or quits match is what our work is all about and that's why we are well paid.
“We need this kind of match.”
Buffon meanwhile said he did not believe the Dutch would allow the Romanians to get the win they need to claim second spot.
“Sincerely, I think it will be a real match. And the Romanians will have to go out there and play the match of their own lives and could suffer a backlash, kind of boomerang effect.”
Looking ahead to a possible later meeting with the Dutch and a chance to exact revenge for their opening 3-0 loss, Buffon smiled and said: “Given the results of the first round I think (Dutch coach Marco) van Basten would love to meet either of us (Italy or France) in the semis!”
After Italian complaints at the standard of refereeing in their previous matches which saw a seemingly offside goal benefit the Dutch and then an apparently valid Italian effort ruled out against the Romanians Buffon said he believed that “the choice of Lubos Michel is a guarantee” for the France game.
“All the better to have a good referee like him,” for a crunch match, said the experienced keeper, who said Italy just needed “a bit of luck for our Euro to change.
“Last Friday with eight minutes to go we were in the plane to go home” before he saved Mutu's penalty.
“But we are still there – and that's a good sign.”
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