Amid all of the sub-plots firing the chase for this season’s Champions League trophy, there is one character story that has so far struck more of a chord than even Diego Simeone’s attempts to finally bury Atletico Madrid’s ghosts or Monaco's Kylian Mbappe rise to stardom. It is Giangluigi Buffon’s ongoing quest to win the one major club trophy that has eluded him.
These quarter-finals only saw the impetus behind that grow, because so few shots eluded him. The 39-year-old legend pulled off one of the moments of the campaign with his superb save from Andres Iniesta in the first leg of Juventus’ 3-0 aggregate win over Barcelona, and then one of the feats of the last half-decade by becoming the first goalkeeper to completely keep out that trio of Leo Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar for the entire 180 minutes of a European tie.
It is an achievement that has only emboldened a defiant Juve, and made them favourites for the competition, but there was typical humility from Buffon after the game as he admitted he didn’t expect to claim a cleansheet against that kind of firepower. He did, however, add that he expected to qualify given their healthy 3-0 lead from the first leg.
“I did think we had a good chance of qualification after the 3-0 first leg result, but I honestly didn’t believe we would come to Camp Nou and keep a clean sheet,” Buffon said.
“Aside from the result, the belief and character of our approach was excellent and it’s a good confidence booster to qualify comfortably against what remains probably the best team in the world.”
The truth was that Juve’s backline played so well that Buffon wasn’t really required to make any saves of the quality he did against Iniesta in the first leg, but he was predictably solid. There were also many moments when his mere presence seemed to rush Barca’s usually precise strikers into hastily-taken shots from further out.
The goalkeeper is now again close to the trophy, but still must go through at least 270 minutes, including a semi-final against one of Monaco, Real Madrid or Atletico. He did admit which of these sides he wanted to avoid. Buffon does not want to play Atletico, although it is not because of their perceived similarity to Juventus due to their defensive resilience, but rather because he feels they will be able to pour all their energy into at last winning the Champions League.
“Maybe it’s better to meet Monaco or Real, who will spend significant energy in the fight for the league,” Buffon said. “They would rotate less, compared to Atletico, who have a more defined position [in the league] and can manage themselves.”