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June 28, 2017

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Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo are still hungry for the Italian job

MILAN -- They may have a combined age of 71 but Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are as hungry as Italy's young guns as they embark on a possible World Cup swansong this summer.

Buffon, a World Cup winner in 2006, is now 36 years old but the Juventus goalkeeper is quick to parry any suggestions his winning desire is on the wane.

"I'm still hungry," said Buffon when asked his feelings ahead of Italy's quest for a record-equaling fifth World Cup title.

If Italy are to negotiate a potentially tricky Group D campaign, before possibly meeting Spain or Brazil later on, a pair of safe hands and a midfield orchestrator with few peers in the game will be essential.

Together, Buffon and Pirlo boast 247 Italy appearances, Buffon holding the current national record of 139 as he and Pirlo head into their fourth and third World Cup campaigns respectively.

That experience, and the pair's understanding from playing together at Juventus, can only benefit a squad in which Cesare Prandelli has included several fresher faces.

Buffon has been untouchable as Italy's number one since pushing Francesco Toldo aside four games into the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.

He was in stunning form at Germany 2006, conceding a World Cup record of two goals throughout and finishing with five clean sheets as Italy set up a final against France.

With the scores tied 1-1, Buffon crucially saved a header from Zinedine Zidane in extra time before the match went on to penalties, where Italy triumphed 5-3.

In South Africa four years later, Buffon was replaced at half-time due to a sciatic nerve problem before Italy went on to draw their opening group game 1-1 against Paraguay. It was his last game of the tournament and, tellingly, Italy failed to get past the first round.

Buffon captained Italy for Euro 2012, and the effect was instant. He conceded only three goals on Italy's path to the final where the Azzurri were humbled 4-0 by Spain.

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