TURIN, Italy — Even the best can make mistakes.
Veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made a rare error on Thursday which almost cost his team the match before Daniele De Rossi’s late penalty rescued a 1-1 draw against Spain in their World Cup qualifier.
Spain had dominated but rarely tested Buffon, thanks to Italy’s strength in defense, until the Juventus goalkeeper’s howler in the 55th minute.
Sergio Busquets’ long pass appeared innocuous enough but Buffon rushed out of the penalty area to clear and completely missed the ball, allowing Vitolo to deposit it into the empty net.
Italy had been entrenched in its own half for much of the match but that goal seemed to spark the Azzurri into life and they secured a point when De Rossi converted with eight minutes remaining after Eder was tripped by Sergio Ramos.
“In a year and a half one can laugh about, if it happens again in two days or 20 days we will laugh less,” Buffon said. “We managed to recover and my teammates were really commendable because after the goal we found a physical and mental force to rescue a match which seemed impossible looking at how the first hour went.
“I had too many ideas in my head on how I was going to kick the ball. I was scared of kicking it off him and I thought of another way, but then ended up making a hash of it.”
Many of the matches between Italy and Spain in recent years have centered on their veteran goalkeepers, with Buffon and Iker Casillas regarded as the best in the world for many years.
But Casillas was again not included in Julen Lopetegui’s second squad since taking over from Vicente del Bosque and Buffon had joked on the eve of the match that it was a sign that he too was reaching his “sell-by-date.”
But defender Leonardo Bonucci, who has been a teammate of Buffon for several years for club and country, shrugged off the 38-year-old’s error.
“I can’t do anything but say thanks to Gigi for what he does for Juventus and the national team. He is a superstar,” Bonucci said, before joking: “He showed that even he is a human being, and we had some doubts about that until today.”
Buffon has played for Italy for nearly 19 years, having made his debut as a 19-year-old on Oct. 29, 1997.
He needs three more appearances to move level with Casillas and former Latvia midfielder Vitalijs Astafjevs on 167 caps as the most capped players in European football history, while he is 20 appearances off Ahmed Hassan’s record for Egypt.
Buffon, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, broke a 22-year-old Serie A record last season for not conceding a goal, going 974 consecutive minutes before he was finally beaten.
“Even the best goalkeeper in history can make mistakes too once in a while, otherwise he’d be a machine,” said De Rossi, who plays for Juve’s Serie A rival Roma. “It would have been better if he’d made a mistake for Juventus rather than Italy.”
Spain and Italy are level on points in Group G after winning their opening qualifiers. Only the top team qualifies for the 2018 World Cup in Russia automatically.
Albania moved to the top after winning in Lichtenstein 2-0 to maintain its perfect start to its qualifying campaign.