Milan, Nov 14 (IANS) Tributes poured in for iconic goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon as the Italy captain retired from international football after their catastrophic loss to Sweden in the 2018 World Cup qualification play-off here on Monday.
Buffon, playing in his 175th international -- a record for a European, tearfully ended his international journey as four-time world champions Italy fell 0-1 in aggregate to Sweden, failing to qualify for a World Cup after 60 years.
Having made his debut in 1997, Buffon, widely praised for his sporting spirit, leadership and goalkeeping excellence, won the World Cup in 2006 and captained Italy to a runners-up finish in Euro 2012.
The 39-year-old Juventus captain wanted to end his career in 2018 football showpiece in Russia which would have made him the first footballer to play in six World Cups, but Italy lost to Sweden 0-1 in Stockholm and were held goalless in the second leg at the San Siro Stadium here.
Several current and former footballers, apart from fans of Buffon, took to social media to express their respect for the Italian captain.
Buffon had also earlier said that the 2017-18 season may be his last also in club football.
Buffon's long-time rival and Spain veteran Iker Casillas posted a picture of a tearful Buffon and wrote on Twitter: "I do not like anything to see you like that! I want to see you as before, as what you continue to be for many: a LEGEND. Proud to meet you and proud of having faced you many times. You still have to delight us in friend football! #1."
Casillas' compatriot Sergio Ramos said: "The World will miss you, @gianluigibuffon. Courage, friend! You are so big."
Former England star striker Gary Linekar said Buffon "will be much missed". "A mountain of a man. A Giant of a goalkeeper. A credit to his sport," he wrote.
France great Franck Ribery said: Tough opponent, great character & idol for every player. Respect for your international career @gianluigibuffon."
Germany great Lukas Podolski wrote: "Grazie #Buffon, one of the best on and off the field #Legend."
Buffon captained the Italian national team 79 times -- joint highest with Fabio Cannavaro.
German tennis great Boris Becker said: "Grazie @gianluigibuffon !!! One of the all time greatest says #Goodbye."