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World Cup: Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon might be out of the tournament

June 15, 2010 |  9:17 am
Italy, the 2006 World Cup winner, suffered a potentially fatal setback in its hopes to repeat as champion when starting goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's back injury was diagnosed Tuesday as "serious."

Buffon, 32, played only the first 45 minutes of the Azzurri's 1-1 opening-game tie against Paraguay on Monday night before being replaced by backup Federico Marchetti. Afterward, he said it was an aggravated sciatic nerve that was troubling him and that he would be back to normal in a day or two.

But on Tuesday, Italy's team doctor, Enrico Castellaci, said the problem was more serious and that "at the moment no date could be set for his return." Buffon was undergoing physiotherapy, Castellaci said.

Buffon is regarded as one of the top three goalkeepers in the world, along with Spain's Iker Casillas and Brazil's Julio Cesar. In helping Italy win the World Cup in Germany in 2006, he allowed only two goals in seven games, one of them an own goal and the other by France's Zinedine Zidane.

If he cannot play again in South Africa, the loss would be a devastating blow to Coach Marcello Lippi's team, which already has midfield playmaker Andrea Pirlo sidelined by injury.

Italy's second game is against New Zealand in Nelspruit on Sunday.

-- Grahame L. Jones in Johannesburg, South Africa