Milan: AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma moved a virtual step closer to taking over as Italy's number one goalkeeper after Azzurri legend Gianluigi Buffon said he is likely to retire in 2018.
Juventus shot-stopper Buffon earned his 167th cap in a goalless friendly with Germany last month -- when Donnarumma played the second half to make his second Azzurri appearance -- to pull level with retired Spain legend and fellow goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Buffon is now just 17 caps behind world record-holder Ahmed Hassan of Egpyt (184), a tally he may just overtake depending on how Italy fare at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In comments to Premium Sport, Buffon said: "My idea is to leave football as a player after the 2018 World Cup. I'm pretty sure of it."
Buffon said there was "only a remote possibility" he could extend his long and storied career beyond that date.
Given the emergence of Donnarumma, a 17-year-old who pushed Diego Lopez aside at AC Milan last season to become the seven-time European champions' number one between the sticks, Buffon's announcement comes as little surprise.
He was largely expected to retire from the game after the 2018 World Cup, where Donnarumma -- now in his second season in Italy's top flight -- could showcase his skills to a global audience.
Buffon recently became a father for the third time and last month hinted he could go on to coach Italy.
"A coaching role and all that it entails on a daily basis wouldn't appeal to me," Buffon said in an interview with Corriere della Sera.
"But I wouldn't exclude a national team coaching role: I would still be involved in the game but have some freedom to dedicate myself to other things."
Having won almost all of club and international football's goalkeeping awards and played a crucial role in Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph, the only trophy missing from Buffon's cabinet is the Champions League title.
Juve came close to a third title in 2015 only to be outclassed 3-1 in Berlin by Barcelona.
Juventus face Porto in the last 16 of the competition in February looking to qualify for their second quarter-final in three years having been ousted from the knockout phase by Bayern Munich.
Earlier in the campaign Buffon saved a penalty in a precious 1-0 win at Lyon and although he had harsh words for his teammates afterwards, he seems resigned to his fate whatever it may be.
"I believe in meritocracy, so if I deserve to win (the Champions League) I will. Otherwise, I won't."
Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 17:53:55 IST