Luigi Di Biagio has implored veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to prolong his international career with Italy.
The 40-year-old Juventus stopper earned his 175th cap in November as a goalless draw with Sweden at San Siro confirmed Italy’s failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
After that match Buffon, who is expected to put away his gloves for Juve at the end of the season, tearfully admitted his time with the Azzurri was over.
But Di Biagio, named as the interim Italy boss while the federation seeks a permanent successor to Giampiero Ventura, wants Buffon to be involved in upcoming friendlies against Argentina and England.
At his first press conference since accepting the national team’s reins, Di Biagio said: “I have spoken with Buffon and proposed another two or three games for him because such a player shouldn’t end his time with a match like the Sweden one.
“I’ve spoken with some of the older players because I wanted to understand if they did indeed want to end their time with the national squad.”
AC Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 19, has long been earmarked to replace Buffon as the country’s number one and Di Biagio has faith in the next generation.
He added: “Our goal is already in safe hands for the next 20 years.
“After a phenomenal player like Buffon, we now have Donnarumma, (Alex) Meret, (Mattia) Perin, (Simone) Scuffet and many more. We’re more than covered in this area.”
On his desire to become the next long-term Azzurri boss, the former Roma and Inter Milan midfielder added on Twitter: “In my heart, I want to make it difficult for those who have to pick the next coach but at the moment the future of Italian football is the only thing on my mind.
“I know what my role is, I’m a realist but an ambitious one. Today, coaching the national team isn’t important – it’s the relaunch of Italian football that matters.”
Di Biagio, whose regular role is managing Italy Under-21s, has named his first training squad as he assesses his options before the March matches in England, first against Argentina at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium and then against Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions at Wembley.
There was no place in the 24-man selection for Mario Balotelli, who has revived his ailing career by scoring regularly for Nice, but Di Biagio could not rule out reaching out to the former Manchester City and Liverpool striker next month.
“I constantly follow Balotelli,” said the 46-year-old Roman. “I’ll decide whether to bring him along or not right at the moment when I make the call-ups. No decision has been made yet.”
Scotland midfielder Scott Brown has retired from international football for a second time.
The Celtic captain, 32, has won 55 caps for his country across two spells, reversing an initial decision to retire in August 2016.
New Scotland boss Alex McLeish may have wished to call on Brown’s services but the combative midfielder has made himself unavailable.
He said on Celtic’s official website: “I have spoken to Alex McLeish over the weekend. I really wanted to tell Alex first what I was thinking about things.
“As I said to Alex, I felt that, given the demands which are increasing all the time in football and at this stage of my career, I wasn’t able to give both my club and country my best and I needed to focus purely on Celtic at this time.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Some of the world’s best Under-13 football players will be in Dubai this weekend as the city hosts the second edition of the U13 Dubai Intercontinental Football Cup at Dubai Sports City.
Held for the first time in April last year with 12 teams competing for the title, the tournament will be held from February 22-24 this year with 20 teams from 13 different countries – including Spanish clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona, England’s Liverpool, Italian giants Juventus and Egypt’s Al Ahly – playing a total of 57 matches across the three days.
Details of the event were revealed at a press conference on Tuesday, where HE Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council, and former Real Madrid stars Michel Salgado, chief executive of the tournament, and Luis Figo, the tournament’s ambassador, were present.
A brainchild of Salgado and supported by Dubai Sports Council (DSC), the tournament will be broadcast around the globe, on major networks, with at least 29 of the matches being shown live.
The matches will be played from 9am to 9pm each day, with two matches taking place simultaneously, and the grand final for Gold Cup is scheduled for 8.30pm on Saturday, February 24.
The teams taking part this year are: FC Barcelona, Celta Vigo and Real Madrid (all Spain); Liverpool FC (England); Juventus (Italy); Al Wasl, Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai, Al Nasr Dubai, Al Wahda and Spanish Soccer Schools Dubai (all UAE); Al Ahly and Wadi Degla (both Egypt); and Al Nassr (Saudi Arabia), Canadian Academy of Football (Canada), Pascoe Vale FC (Australia), FC Rostov (Russia), Tokyo Select (Japan), Jiangsu Suning (China), Lizzy Sports (Ghana) and Academia de Futebol de Angola.
“From 12 teams in the first edition to 20 teams for the second year, the tournament has taken a massive leap,” said Hareb at the press conference, which was held at DSC’s headquarters.
“If you translate that to percentages, the year-on-year growth is more than 66 per cent and that is impressive by any measure. The increasing numbers show us that we needed such an age-group competition. It also shows the great work put in by the organising committee and Michel Salgado.
“This is a very important tournament because it gives us a glimpse into the future. The tournament will showcase players, who will grow up to represent their clubs and their countries, and win titles with them.
“So our best wishes to everyone here and we hope to see this event grow even bigger in the coming years and become the premier under-13 football tournament in the world.”
Ali Omar Al Balooshi, the Director of Sports Development at DSC, added: “The under-13 is a very important age group in terms of football development, and this opportunity to play some of the best players from around the globe is invaluable for the players from our local clubs and academies.
“Our players get to see players from the top European clubs and learn from them. They get to see first-hand how these players train, how they play, how they manage themselves and their time, and how they take those small baby steps towards professionalism.
“It is also an opportunity for our local club coaches to see how the coaches from the top clubs operate and grasp the latest and best practises in the world of football.
“This is what makes this tournament so special. It is an invaluable experience and, in a few years’ time, you will start seeing the impact of not just this tournament on our domestic football, but all the other initiatives of Dubai Sports Council that have been focused on improving grassroots football in the country.”
The U13 Intercontinental Cup was conceived by Salgado and former Spain international is hoping the tournament will reflect the ideals of the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, in this Year of Zayed.
“This tournament takes inspiration from Sheikh Zayed, whose visionary ideals of tolerance, unity, diversity, secularism and foresight laid the foundations of this amazing country,” said Salgado. “This country is my home now and Dubai is my city, and the perfect scenario for such an amazing tournament, a city open to and welcoming to everybody.
“The growth of football in UAE is a fact and this tournament is a real chance for our local teams and local players to challenge the best of the world in order to make them ready to be competitive,” the former Spain international added.
“It’s the biggest opportunity to watch the best U-13 players of the world and the future stars of football, and we want to make the U13 Dubai Intercontinental Football Cup the most important grassroots tournament in the world.
“I see this tournament as a way of paying football back through the kids that everyday are dreaming to be professional like I used to do when I was a kid.”
Speaking on the occasion, Figo, regarded as one of the greatest players the game has seen, said: “It is a great pleasure for me to be here in Dubai and to be the ambassador of this international tournament.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for all the kids because it gives them the chance to compete, which is very important at this age. Also, these kids are the future of their clubs and countries and we are here to support them and help them achieve their dreams of playing professional football in the future.”