Buffon confident of maintaining form

SESTRIERE, Italy (AP) — Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon established himself as the world's top goalkeeper at the 2006 World Cup. He's confident he can make a similar impact in South Africa.

Buffon missed two months of the season with a knee injury, but now feels he is back to his best.

"I have faith in my ability. To say otherwise would be a lie," Buffon said Thursday at the Italy training camp in the Italian Alps. "If the team is united, then players can play above themselves."

World champion Italy has friendlies against Mexico and Switzerland before leaving for South Africa, where it will play Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia in group play.

"The match with Paraguay will be the most difficult," he said. "It's a tricky team which will work its socks off, and the first match is always difficult. Starting with a win will be important."

Italy is aiming to become the first team to retain the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, but will need to avoid a repetition of the 2009 Confederations Cup when the team crashed out after defeats to Egypt and Brazil.

Nonetheless, Buffon is one of nine World Cup winners on Marcello Lippi's 28-man training squad.

"The chances of us winning are less than they were in Germany," Buffon said. "Having won it in 2006, it has become even more difficult to repeat it.

"Even so, we have everything necessary to do well at the World Cup. Of course to retain the World Cup you need luck in a number of situations. If we do go out, we have to make sure we do so with our heads held high, giving a good image of Italian football."

Buffon has been linked to a move away from Juventus in recent days, but said he was happy to stay at the club, which he joined in 2001.

"I could see that Juventus wanted to keep me and so I decided to stay," he said. "Now the only thing that interests me is the mentality the new players have. They have to spill blood for the shirt."