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Luigi Di Biagio urges Gianluigi Buffon to prolong Italy career

Interim boss Di Biagio has also teased a potential return to the Italy squad for Mario Balotelli.

Luigi Di Biagio has implored veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to prolong his international career with Italy.

The 40-year-old Juventus stopper earned his 175th cap in November as a goalless draw with Sweden at San Siro confirmed Italy’s failure to qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

After that match Buffon, who is expected to put away his gloves for Juve at the end of the season, tearfully admitted his time with the Azzurri was over.

But Di Biagio, named as the interim Italy boss while the federation seeks a permanent successor to Giampiero Ventura, wants Buffon to be involved in upcoming friendlies against Argentina and England.

At his first press conference since accepting the national team’s reins, Di Biagio said: “I have spoken with Buffon and proposed another two or three games for him because such a player shouldn’t end his time with a match like the Sweden one.

“I’ve spoken with some of the older players because I wanted to understand if they did indeed want to end their time with the national squad.”

AC Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 19, has long been earmarked to replace Buffon as the country’s number one and Di Biagio has faith in the next generation.

He added: “Our goal is already in safe hands for the next 20 years.

“After a phenomenal player like Buffon, we now have Donnarumma, (Alex) Meret, (Mattia) Perin, (Simone) Scuffet and many more. We’re more than covered in this area.”

On his desire to become the next long-term Azzurri boss, the former Roma and Inter Milan midfielder added on Twitter: “In my heart, I want to make it difficult for those who have to pick the next coach but at the moment the future of Italian football is the only thing on my mind.

“I know what my role is, I’m a realist but an ambitious one. Today, coaching the national team isn’t important – it’s the relaunch of Italian football that matters.”

Di Biagio, whose regular role is managing Italy Under-21s, has named his first training squad as he assesses his options before the March matches in England, first against Argentina at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium and then against Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions at Wembley.

There was no place in the 24-man selection for Mario Balotelli, who has revived his ailing career by scoring regularly for Nice, but Di Biagio could not rule out reaching out to the former Manchester City and Liverpool striker next month.

“I constantly follow Balotelli,” said the 46-year-old Roman. “I’ll decide whether to bring him along or not right at the moment when I make the call-ups. No decision has been made yet.”

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