Thursday 04 May 2017, 07:30

Centurion Buffon the difference

  • Gianluigi Buffon becomes first player to reach 100 Champions League appearances for Juventus

  • Buffon made several key saves as Juventus earn 2-0 semi-final win at Monaco

  • Return leg next Tuesday, with FIFA Club World Cup spot on offer for the winner of next month’s final

Gonzalo Higuain grabbed most of the headlines for his two-goal performance as Juventus put one hand on a ticket to the UEFA Champions League final, but ageless goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon played an equally pivotal role in the Italian club's 2-0 win at Monaco on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old Buffon celebrated his 100th Champions League game for Juventus – the first player to reach this landmark for La Vecchia Signora – with a typically flawless performance.

Buffon notably denied teenager Kylian Mbappe twice early on at the Stade Louis II, before Higuain opened the scoring in the semi-final.

It was a similar story in the second period as the Juventus No1 was down smartly to deny Radamel Falcao and then saved at the feet of Mbappe, before Higuain concluded a near perfect night for the visitors with a sealer on the hour mark.

“Gianluigi Buffon produced some great saves,” said Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim. “Our lack of goals is because of him. He produced two or three wonderful saves. Juventus didn't concede a goal thanks to his efforts.

“We had more possession, we played more in their last 30 metres. But I think that the clinical finishing made the difference. Juventus had three chances and scored two goals. With three chances, we didn't score.”

Buffon’s efforts ensured a sixth successive European clean sheet for Juve, with only Arsenal (ten, 2005-2006) and AC Milan (seven, 2004-2005) having enjoyed longer runs of defensive perfection.

Buffon became just the second player to make 100 Champions League appearances for an Italian side and now trails only Paolo Maldini, who played 109 matches for AC Milan.

As for Monaco, it was the first time they had failed to find the net in a home match since November 2015, when they lost 2-0 against Anderlecht in the UEFA Europa League.

The return leg will be played in Turin on Tuesday and the second instalment of the other semi-final will take place on Wednesday, with Real Madrid taking a 3-0 advantage to city rivals Atletico.

Europe’s club champions will be determined in Cardiff on 4 June, with the winner to represent the continent at the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup.