Gianluigi Buffon has kept a clean sheet in the Champions League across the past four decades. Let that sink in for a moment.
When the veteran gloveman kept his first, a 0-0 draw for Carlo Ancelotti’s Parma against Sparta Prague in 1997, his chief antagonist on Tuesday night, Lionel Messi, was just 10 years of age at the time and progressing through the Newell’s Old Boys academy in Argentina.
Gianluigi Buffon is the first goalkeeper to keep a Champions League clean sheet in four different decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s).
— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) December 9, 2020
Fast forward 23 years and Buffon, who turns 43 next month, produced a quite extraordinary seven saves from Barcelona’s diminutive genius to protect Juventus’ clean sheet and ensure the Old Lady topped Group G, simultaneously ending Barca’s record 38-game unbeaten run at home in the competition.
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The overriding subplot before kick-off was, of course, the latest instalment of modern football’s most iconic heavyweights, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, converging on Catalonia to do battle for the 36th time. Who would add an extra gold star to the endless GOAT debate?
However, it was the Buffon vs Messi script that took precedence in this fixture, as Juve’s ageless shot-stopper rolled back the years with an exhibition of elite dexterity and an act of rebellion against Father Time as he subdued a frustrated Messi.
Barca’s captain registered a staggering 11 shots, seven of which were on target, and all kept out by Buffon, as Ronaldo and Weston McKennie did the business at the opposite end of the pitch to secure a comprehensive 3-0 triumph and leapfrog the five-time winners.
To magnify further just how incredible Buffon’s exploits were: Messi’s seven shots on target was the most a player has registered in a Champions League game without scoring since at least once since 2003/04. No wonder he opted to swap shirts with the Italian stalwart at the final whistle.
7 – Barcelona’s Lionel Messi 🇦🇷 has had seven shots on target against Juventus (11 in total), more than any other player in a Champions League game without scoring since at least 2003/04. Tireless. pic.twitter.com/QGaAbe0sz2
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) December 8, 2020
The two titans embraced after the drama had come to a close and exchanged jerseys. It was a fitting end to an epic encounter between the duo: a sign of respect and recognition of quality.
But, it was the man in the dugout who offered the greatest paean to Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, likening his former teammate to a footballing “monument”, while also refuting the notion that his selection process was fuelled by nepotistic tendencies.
“He doesn’t play because he’s my friend, he plays because he’s a monument of world football, he has proven it and continues to prove it in matches like tonight,” Pirlo told reporters after the triumph.
If anyone suspected Buffon was selected ahead Wojciech Szczesny as a mere token gesture from Pirolo needs only to watch the highlights and see Buffon in full motion, palming shot after shot from Messi, getting down low and commanding his area.
It is a testament to the Juve legend that he is still going strong as such an age, with the ‘keeper older than six of the current 32 managers in the Champions League this season, including his own, Pirlo, but based on Tuesday’s showing against Messi, it would seem he still has a few years left in the tank yet.