Soccer-Buffon warns rivals not to underestimate Italy at Euro 2024

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifier - Italy Press Conference - FIGC Coverciano Technical Centre, Coverciano, Italy - September 4, 2023 Italy delegation chief Gianluigi Buffon during the press conference REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

(Reuters) - Goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon said Italy are being underestimated ahead of the European Championship and that Luciano Spalletti's side have both the talent and attitude to successfully defend their title.

Italy, who failed to qualify for the past two editions of the World Cup, scraped through qualifying for Euro 2024 and only secured their spot in Germany with a draw against Ukraine in their final group match.

Drawn in one of the tournament's toughest groups - alongside Spain, Croatia and Albania - few fancy their chances of progressing to the knockout stage but Buffon is confident.

"I believe this national team is underestimated, it's a competitive squad, especially for the strength of character of all the players," the 46-year-old told reporters on Wednesday.

"This is what surprised me the most and what made me the happiest, seeing their sense of belonging to our nation and the Italy shirt.

"There are four, five or six players that I would say are world class. We have a great group, but we also have some great players that can help us play a good competition."

Buffon, who played 176 times for Italy and lifted the World Cup in 2006, is serving as head of delegation with the Italian national team at the Euros.

Italy start their Group B campaign on Saturday against Albania before facing Spain on June 20 and Croatia four days later.

(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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