Gianluigi Donnarumma sets sights on Italy goalkeeper spot as Buffon sets 2018 retirement date

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.

 Gianluigi Donnarumma sets sights on Italy goalkeeper spot as Buffon sets 2018 retirement date

File photo of young Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Reuters

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