Some great names of Italian and German football were among the players past and present to receive a UEFA award on Tuesday as their national teams completed serene passages to UEFA EURO 2012.
Before helping Italy to a 3-0 victory against Northern Ireland, Gianluigi Buffon lined up alongside fellow Azzurri goalkeeping great Dino Zoff and defensive luminaries Paolo Maldini and Fabio Cannavaro as UEFA continued its series of presentations to footballers who have achieved the distinction of playing 100 times or more for their country.
"I feel I'm entering the football nobility today and I'm happy to celebrate this milestone while still playing," said Buffon. Maldini added: "It's a great pleasure to be here. I'm the only one of the four who hasn't won a World Cup but I had the joy of playing in four of them.
I've had so much from life that I cannot regret anything."
Cannavaro, Italy's captain when they lifted a fourth world title in 2006, hopes Gianluca Zambrotta will be the next Italian international to join the 100-cap club. "He is still 34 and needs just two more caps – I was 33 when I won the Ballon d'Or after all," he said.
Zoff is the only Italian to have won a UEFA European Championship and a FIFA World Cup, a feat achieved by three of the six German players to be handed commemorative caps and medals prior to the Mannschaft's 3-1 success against Belgium – Lothar Matthäus, Jürgen Kohler and Thomas Hässler.
Matthäus said: "It's really nice that these players, who are no longer centre stage, return as the focal point." Joachim Streich, who made the most appearances and scored the most goals for East Germany, added: "It's something special to part of a circle of players like Zidane, Raúl, Laudrup, Luís Figo and Shevchenko, not to mention our top German players."
Georgia may not be in the running for Poland and Ukraine yet there was some cause for celebration last night as Levan Kobiashvili earned his 100th cap against Greece. "If UEFA think I deserve this honour for my career, then I accept it with great pleasure," said the 34-year-old. "I'm not a player who thinks I am better than others.
There were certainly better players than me in the national team; I've been lucky to play 100 times for Georgia."
Four Maltese – Gilbert Agius, David Carabott, Carmel Busuttil and Joe Brincat – also picked up awards on Tuesday along with Switzerland's Stéphane Chapuisat and Norwegians Henning Berg and John Arne Riise, who made his 99th international outing against Cyprus. "I'm really honoured to receive such an award," said the left-back. "I hope to keep playing until EURO 2016 and my total may be hard to beat for any Norwegian by then."
Also honoured was Russia's Viktor Onopko. "I do not want to single out one or two matches in the national team because it is a huge part of my life which lasted 12 years," he said. "That is the positive part. I remember the disappointing match against Ukraine when we drew and missed EURO 2000. I remember also good matches like against Wales when we beat them in the play-offs and qualified for EURO 2004."
Thorbjørn Svenssen holds the Norwegian record, having been capped 104 times, 93 as captain. The former centre-half died earlier this year so his family collected his cap and medal.
The full list of European international centurions is available on UEFA.com. Further presentations will take place at future national-team games, including November's friendly internationals, as well as other events across Europe.
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