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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Italy's number one priority
Francesco Toldo in action for Internazionale
Francesco Toldo is trying to regain Italy's No 1 jersey
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Italy are primed to give another master class in the art of defending at this summer's World Cup finals and have two of the most talented goalkeepers in the world to choose from.

Gigi Buffon and Francesco Toldo are without their equal when it comes to shot-stopping

An aura of invincibility surrounds both, and the similarities do not end there.

Both men, for instance, swapped the provincial life for moves to the high-pressured surroundings of Turin and Milan at the start of this season - almost as if they were raising the stakes in their battle for the Italy No 1 shirt in Japan and South Korea.

Buffon, at 26, is four years younger than Toldo and his 33m move from Parma to Juventus a world record for a goalkeeper - overshadowed the 17m Internazionale paid Fiorentina for the gentle giant of Italian football.

Open Quote
A rivalry with Buffon exists but only in the sporting sense we are still friends."
Close Quote
Francesco Toldo
The disparity in the fees seemed to have cemented Buffon's position as Italy coach Giovanni Trapattoni's regular starter ahead of the group opener against Ecuador.

Toldo, for his part, has become accustomed to playing second fiddle at international level, having been reserve to Gianluca Pagliuca during France 98.

He expected to step up for the Euro 2000 qualifying campaign, but there waiting in the wings was Buffon who first exploded on to the scene as a 17-year-old, leaving Toldo with the tag of the perennial bench warmer.

That probably would have remained the case if not for Buffon's hand injury on the eve of Euro 2000 finals, which gave Toldo a belated opportunity to show his worth.

He did not disappoint and a series of masterly displays culminated in a heroic performance in the penalty shoot-out win over Holland in the semi-finals, when he saved three Dutch spot-kicks.

In fact, from that moment a genuine rivalry for possession of the No 1 shirt was born something even the modest Toldo recognised as Trapattoni named his first squad for the 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Gigi Buffon in action during a friendly against England
Gigi Buffon is currently first choice
"I do not want to give up my place in the side," he said. "A rivalry with Buffon exists but only in the sporting sense we are still friends."

Trapattoni left Buffon the bench for the first three qualifying games but the old order was restored for the remainder of the campaign, as the extrovert with a penchant for luminous short-sleeved shirts and shaved eyebrows stepped back into the limelight.

Toldo set his considerable frame back on the bench but with a new-found determination to reclaim his starting-place.

"I know just a way to try to show Mr Trapattoni that he could count on me: giving my best on the pitch," he said.

Toldo cannot be faulted for his aptitude, as Inter press their claims for a first Scudetto victory since 1989.

But Buffon has been just as prolific with Juventus where after an error-ridden start to the campaign he has returned to his agile best in time for the title run-in.

The two big men, with big reputations and without fear when it comes to throwing themselves at the feet of oncoming attackers, would grace any side.

And whoever gets the starting shirt will ensure that the case for Italy's defence is as strong as ever.

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