Hart looking forward to meeting hero Buffon
Joe Hart is looking forward to measuring himself against one of his idols on Sunday when he starts opposite Gianluigi Buffon in England's quarter-final showdown with Italy.
Two years ago, Buffon tipped Hart to emerge as the world's best goalkeeper over the following decade, hailing the then 23-year-old Manchester City stopper as the natural heir to the likes of himself and Spain's Iker Casillas.
"They do really have a great goalkeeper in Joe Hart," Buffon said at the time. "I don't see any reason why, in five years when Iker and I are old men, he can't be the best in the world."
Hart still keeps a press clipping of Buffon's comments at his home, a cherished endorsement from the Juventus goalkeeper, widely regarded as among the finest ever to have played the game.
The admiration is entirely mutual, with Hart needing little encouragement to wax lyrical about the 34-year-old's standing in the game ahead of this weekend's Euro 2012 meeting in Kiev.
"He's a huge name in football, goalkeeping-terms as well. He's been a legend for years," said Hart.
"He's their captain, someone they look up to. I love the way he plays. He's got a great style about him and he seems to have good mannerisms, the way he plays, is in control of the situation and seems like a likeable person.
"I'm really looking forward to playing against him. He's calm and in control and he makes the big saves when required."
Hart said he was most impressed by Buffon's game-management, consistently rejecting the flamboyant option if a more straighforward choice is available.
"He doesn't go looking for action, which is key goalkeeping-wise," Hart said.
"Especially when you're playing good sides like Italy. The last thing you want is your keeper trying to take crosses 30 yards out or slide-tackling people. He just does his thing and is very good at it.
"He's an exceptional keeper, someone I look up to and someone I'd like to learn off."
Buffon also appears to be an excellent judge of character. Since his initial appraisal of Hart two years ago the England goalkeeper has indicated he is well on the way to making Buffon's prediction become a reality.
Now firmly established as England's number one, Hart has been a commanding presence between the sticks at the Euros and has yet to lose a competitive match for England since making his senior debut in 2010. So far his record reads played 21, won 15, drawn five, lost 1.
He is also the only English goalkeeper with experience of finishing on a winning side in a penalty shoot-out, having featured in the England Under-21s victory over Sweden in the semi-finals of the junior tournament in 2009.
Hart even converted a penalty in that 5-4 win over the Swedes, and will willingly step up again if Sunday's quarter-final goes to spot-kicks.
"I don't know if I'll be one of the five, but I'll definitely put my name forward," Hart said.
Hart is also unencumbered by the psychological baggage of previous shoot-out failures, refusing to see any wider significance in the fact England have won only one shoot-out in six attempts.
"Penalties are a lottery. There was this jinx about us never beating the Germans in a shoot-out -- and then Chelsea went and blew that out the water," Hart said referring to Chelsea's Champions League win over Bayern Munich.
"There are jinxes everywhere if you really want to look deep. But we'll try to win the game in normal or extra time. If it comes to penalties, we'll wait and see."
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