Buffon celebrates century in sink or swim spell for understudies

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Gigi Buffon could not have wished for a more relaxing way to celebrate his 100th international appearance for Italy in what was the most benign of friendlies with Holland.

The country’s attention had turned to the oval game earlier on Saturday, with 80,000 packing the San Siro for the rugby team’s emotionally-charged test match with the All-Blacks.

So the 14,000 or so who parked up in Pescara provided a much-more homely feel to the round-ball encounter.

There was the now obligatory pro-Cassano chants and a young man taking to the pitch wearing a "Cassano for the national team" T-shirt, but overall there was very little to hold anyone’s attention for long.

With neither side forcing the issue, Buffon had little to do apart from wave to the fans, and was only really called into action to deny Alberto Gilardino from scoring an own-goal late on.

A shut-out will always please any goalkeeper, but Buffon will have probably thanked Juventus team-mates Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini for ensuring a generally quiet evening.

Chiellini, in particular, is beginning to show some self control, although there is little danger of him ever becoming totally passive in his manner.

The thumping challenge on Robin van Persie was fair but more in keeping with a last-minute tackle in a World Cup semi-final than the nature of this match.

Wesley Sneijder missed the game through injury and had claimed that Jose Mourinho warned him that the Juve contingent would be out to get him.

Maybe Chiellini is a closet Spurs fan.

While the centre of the defence is firming up in the best traditions of the Azzurri, the full-back positions continue to be what they are:

Two aging stars, in Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Grosso, incapable of getting forward – whose laboured efforts only reinforce the calls for Domenico Criscito to start at left-back.

With Mauro Camoranesi in excellent form on the right flank there is less need of adventure from the right-back berth.

And we will have to wait and see if Davide Santon discovers a more relaxed state of mind, which can only come from playing regularly at club level, to force his way back into the reckoning for South Africa.

Of the new and fringe players, Andrea Candreva demonstrated the correct temperament and, as with Raffaele Palladino, showed a willingness to get forward to support what was basically a lone striker in Alberto Gilardino as the team morphed into a banal 4-5-1 formation.

Davide Biondini was only given 20 minutes, while Giampaolo Pazzini had less than 15 to impress and did more in that time than Giuseppe Rossi to suggest that the Sampdoria man is winning the race as back-up to Gilardino.

Marcello Lippi has released Buffon, Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo and Zambrotta ahead of Wednesday’s game with Sweden, so the absence of such authoritative figures should give a better indication of whether the 'hopefuls' will sink or swim at international level.

If not, we may yet see Lippi turn to the old guard of Francesco Totti or Alex Del Piero once again when it comes to the real crunch.

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