Impossible choice

Of course the question related to Casillas and Buffon, a subject which fascinates the football world. They were asking the Wise Man of Hortaleza – but actually requesting a footballing version of the Wisdom of Solomon. How do you separate these two? Personal choice, yes. A coach or a director of football can opt for height or for physique or temperament or experience as his defining criterion. Anything else is impossible. So before the veteran Aragonés, who has seen and done nearly it all during his marvellous 51-year playing and coaching career, addressed the subject he chose an exquisitely clever way to dribble, verbally, past the obstacle.

"The first time I started hearing about the 'best ever' was Don Alfredo di Stéfano" grinned the Wise Man, who did not even hint that he thought he was speaking to a fool. "Then it was Pelé, and Cruyff and Maradona and so on." After the preview came Sunday night's drama. What was underlined, even before the start is that we are talking about two wonderful men. Aware of the debate between them, which has now raged for four or five seasons, Buffon went straight up to his Real Madrid CF counterpart and hugged him. Then, stepping back, he quite clearly said, with a wink and a smile: "You're the best, not me." The two men collapsed in comradely laughter and the quarter-final had its first special moment.

Total concentration
There were more. Midway through the second half Fernando Torres lost his temper just a little with Christian Panucci. Buffon raced to the scene but to hug El Niño, to calm his momentary tension and even to coax a little smile out of the combative Liverpool FC striker. Above and beyond the call of duty. But poor old Buffon was doomed to sweat through the shoot-out, to turn away from watching even one of Italy's four attempts and to make a great stop himself – to no avail. Congratulations to Casillas, two fine saves. But the semi-final is the prize, not the goalkeeping world crown. Not yet at least.

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