AP NEWS

Buffon seizes upon 1st opportunity in new reserve role

September 23, 2019
Juventus' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon salutes supporters at the end of the Italian Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Verona at the Juventus' Stadium in Turin, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)
Juventus' goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon salutes supporters at the end of the Italian Serie A soccer match between Juventus and Verona at the Juventus' Stadium in Turin, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Alessandro Di Marco/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — It was exactly the type of performance that Gianluigi Buffon had in mind when he decided to return to Juventus in the unaccustomed role of a reserve.

The 41-year-old goalkeeper showed off his veteran reflexes to help the Bianconeri to a 2-1 win over Hellas Verona on Saturday in his first action of the season.

After a year away at Paris Saint-Germain, Buffon was offered his old No. 1 back by Wojciech Szczesny, who replaced him as Juve’s starter in goal, but instead chose to put on No. 77. Likewise, he declined Giorgio Chiellini’s offer to take back the captain’s armband that he had earned in his first 17 seasons with the club.

“Talking about a rivalry with Szczesny is inappropriate,” Buffon said after Saturday’s game. “The situation has been clear from the start and I’ve accepted it. I’m adjusting to this new, reduced role. But there are opportunities I can take advantage of.”

It was Buffon’s 902nd club match as a professional, equaling Paolo Maldini’s record for an Italian player. With seven more appearances, Buffon can break Maldini’s mark for most games played in Serie A.

Against Verona, Buffon even had luck on his side with Verona hitting the woodwork three times.

A first-half penalty from Samuel Di Carmine hit the post with Buffon having lunged in the opposite direction, then Darko Lazovic’s attempt at the rebound banged off the crossbar. Later, Buffon stopped a dangerous effort from Lazovic on a counterattack and Miguel Veloso’s attempt at the rebound skimmed off the crossbar.

“I’m here because I wanted to share in more emotions with the management and Juve’s fans,” said Buffon, who is expected to retire after this season and join the club’s management. “Returning was a huge satisfaction at my age after a great career.”

The match also marked the first time Buffon played with fellow great Cristiano Ronaldo, who converted a penalty for Juve’s second goal.

BALOTELLI RETURNS

After serving a four-match ban from last season in the French league, Mario Balotelli can finally make his debut with Brescia — his hometown club — against Juventus on Tuesday.

“I’ve worked harder in the last month and a half than I have in a decade,” Balotelli said in an interview with DAZN. “Of course I don’t have match fitness, as I only played two friendlies, but I’m in great shape. The last time I was at this weight I was at Manchester City.”

Balotelli added that his goal is to rejoin Italy’s team for next year’s European Championship.

Balotelli will not go up against Ronaldo, who was left off Juve’s squad for the game due to a “slight abductor (muscle) strain.”

SERIE A WOMEN

AC Milan and Juventus are the only clubs with perfect records two rounds into the women’s season.

Milan beat Orobica Bergamo 4-1 with captain Valentina Giacinti scoring her second of the season — leaving her on course to match her league-best 21 goals in 21 matches last season.

Cristiana Girelli scored twice as Juventus came from a goal down to beat Sassuolo 3-1, giving her three goals in two matches.

Roma won 2-0 at Fiorentina with goals from 21-year-old Annamaria Serturini and Norway international Andrine Hegerberg. Serturini was the youngest member of Italy’s squad that reached the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup this year.

After an international break, the season resumes Oct. 12-13 with the Milan derby.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf