Ronaldo:’Buffon still one of the best’

Ronaldo believes “Spain are the favourites tonight, but not by much” in the World Cup qualifier against Italy. “Gigi Buffon is still one of the best.”

The World Cup qualifier kicks off at the Bernabeu at 19.45 UK time (12:15 IST) and only the group winners go into the tournament automatically.

“I’m almost sorry this game is being played,” the ex-Inter and Real Madrid hero told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“The draw was cruel, as it’s not right that weaker teams in other groups are guaranteed qualification and one of these two must go through a play-off, risking a World Cup exit.

“I say Spain are the favourites tonight, but not by much. The only advantage is they are playing in Madrid and I read Italy haven’t beaten them on their own turf in almost 70 years: so that must mean something.

“Since Spain finally broke the ‘taboo’ with Italy, they’ve won almost all the games that mattered. Tonight they can also afford a draw, assuming that is an advantage, of course.

“There is great reciprocal respect between these sides. Italy are Italy, they are never easy to face and that has always been the situation.”

“The three at the back causes problems because it closes off more passing channels and Italy know how to do that very well. Nowadays, Italy have a great defence and an attack that is more than impressive.

“The best player in the squad remains Buffon, a real phenomenon… I always had a clear idea, when facing Buffon, that he gives the team a strange sense of security. He has even become stronger over the years, because he has charisma and just needs a look to send a message. Plus he smiles all the time on the field: he’s fundamental.

“I saw Andrea Belotti’s (scissor-kick volley) goal last weekend: crazy. Someone who scores like that isn’t just talented, it means he’s got a lot of confidence. That is what Italy need: the guts to try something incredible.”

Lorenzo Insigne already scored a remarkable goal at the Bernabeu when Napoli faced Real Madrid in the Champions League.

“That goal was talked about a great deal here in Madrid. In recent months I’ve watched Napoli a few times and I love the way they play. Insigne has grown a lot, he seems a ‘different’ player to the others, someone who can pull a surprise.

“The Spanish defence is in its full maturity too and Sergio Ramos is probably the best defender in the world right now. On paper, Spain can cause the most problems for Italy in midfield, especially with Isco and Marcos Asensio, who are so tough to face right now. They have so much quality, freshness and self-confidence that you can’t study ways to limit them.”

If Italy have talented young strikers like Belotti and Insigne, Spain rather surprisingly called up David Villa after his move to MLS.


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