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Gianluigi Buffon to become Italy’s most-capped player

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Tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier may not technically mean much for Italy as they take on Denmark in Group B play.

However, for the country’s soccer history it means everything.

Barring a catastrophe, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon will enter Italian soccer lore as the most-capped player in the country’s illustrious history, passing “The Berlin Wall,” defender Fabio Cannavaro.

It will be the 137th appearance by Buffon for his country, and the legend summed up his thoughts perfectly in speaking with the Italian Football Federation’s official website.

“The national team is a reference point for me, it’s the most beautiful expression of our football” said the 35-year-old.  He also called the sport of soccer his country’s “most valuable export.”

Buffon has spent his entire club career in his home country, spending six years at Parma before making the switch to Juventus and appearing in 363 league matches for The Old Lady.

Buffon is the only goalkeeper ever to win the UEFA Footballer of the Year award, has been elected to the UEFA Team of the Year three times, won Serie A goalkeeper of the year a record nine times, won a World Cup in 2006 and was awarded the Golden Glove (formerly the Yashin Award) that season, and he came a spot away from winning the coveted Ballon d’Or – usually reserved for the sexier, more publicized goalscoring players – in 2006 (which he fittingly lost out to Cannavaro).

His legend was no doubt sealed in that World Cup-winning year of 2006, as he kept five clean sheets and conceded a World Cup record-low two goals all tournament (three if you include Cristian Zaccardo’s own goal), none of which came from open play.

While Italy will be trying to stave off Denmark’s charge for a World Cup qualifying spot on Friday, they will no doubt honor Buffon’s legendary contributions to his country on and off the field of play.

Oh, and in true Buffon fashion, he said, “It is an important milestone – but it will not be the last.” Expect to see the man in goal making important saves for at least a little while longer.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.