MADRID: Gianluigi Buffon’s Champions League quest ended with a display of wild-eyed fury, a red card and bitter recriminations after seeing his Juventus side knocked out in the quarter-finals by Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Italy’s great goalkeeper was left incandescent by referee Michael Oliver’s decision to award Real a debatable but decisive stoppage-time penalty at the Bernabeu in Juve’s 3-1 win that was to secure Real a 4-3 aggregate victory in the quarter-final tie.
In the saddest, ugliest moment of the 40-year-old’s peerless career, he rounded on the English official, jostling him and screaming in his face until an alarmed Oliver, also being hounded by other Juve players, showed him a red card.
The episode left Buffon criticising Oliver bitterly afterwards, saying that he had been out of his depth, should have been in the stands eating crisps and must have had a garbage bin for a heart.
The merited red card denied Buffon the chance for one more moment of glory in his 117th and probably final Champions League game — he is tipped to retire at the end of the season — by trying to stop Cristiano Ronaldo’s spot kick.
His replacement Wojciech Szczesny could get nowhere near the bullet but Buffon was still blaming Oliver for what he felt were two injustices — the penalty and the sending off — long after the match had finished.
“It was a 10th of a penalty… a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation,” he told Mediaset Premium. “Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a garbage bin. On top of that, if you don’t have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, drinking your Sprite and eating crisps. You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could’ve told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating.”
He added: “If you can’t handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps.”
In injury time, with extra-time just 30 seconds away, Lucas Vazquez tumbled under the challenge of Mehdi Benatia and it looked a soft award of a penalty.
Buffon had to be restrained by his team mates before reluctantly leaving the pitch. It turned what could have been his finest night, as he had already been given an ovation by the Bernabeu crowd after halftime, into a nightmarish one.
It was the fourth time he had been sent off but the first in his distinguished Champions League career.
The European Cup had been the one big prize that had always eluded him. Zinedine Zidane, the Real Madrid boss, would have recognised better than anyone the poignant nature of all this.
The last match in the Frenchman’s glorious career, of course, saw him sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, the game which saw Italy win a penalty shootout thanks to a certain goalkeeper called Buffon.
“I don’t think he deserved to be sent off,” said Zidane. “In any case, this should not erase everything Buffon has done for football. He’s been an enormous player.”