Consistency more than anything else, was the key factor which helped Dino Zoff of Italy to garner worldwide attention during his playing days. A great performer, it would be better to allow his record to speak about his abilities. He once did not let in a goal for 1143 minutes. Born on February 29, 1942, at Mariano del Frriuli in the north-east province of Gorizia in Italy, he devel- oped his skills with the Udinese before making his debut in the first division, against florentina at the age of 19. It was not a happy debut for this young goalkeeper as he conceded five goals to Florentina in a 2-5 away defeat. But soon, Zoff honed his skills and became a regular choice for his side. He then moved to Mantova, also in the first division. Here again, his team Mantova was soon relegated to the second division. But he stayed with the club till 1967 and changed over to Napoli only after helping Mantova regain its lost place in the first division.
His association with Napoli also helped him to make the Italian national side. He was capped in April 1968 in a European Championship game against Bulgaria on his home ground. He was unbeaten again in his second international, against the USSR in the semifinal of the same competition, but in the final, he was beaten for the first time in a 1-1 draw which also went to the extra period. However, in the replay, he kept the opposition away from scoring and was one of the heroes in Italy's successful campaign.
The first choice Italian goalkeeper, before Zoff made his debut, was Enrico Albertosi. Both these players were now tried on an alternate basis in the run-up for the World Cup, though it was Albertosi who finally got the nod. However, Zoff shortly thereafter edged out his rival, and in 1972 was transferred to Juventus. It was the start of a more rewarding career for Zoff at both club and country level. He was rarely absent from subsequent Italian line-ups. And after conceding a goal to Yugoslavia in September 1972, 17 minutes from the end a match Italy won 3-1, Zoff remained unbeaten in 12 games. And, by the time he conceded one against Haiti, at the 1974 World Cup, he had created a world record.
There was no stopping Zoff at the domestic level too and in the Italian league he was to establish a record of 903 minutes without letting in a goal. By now a veteran, he was once again Italy's first choice in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. He enjoyed a good tournament all through as the Italians moved over to the semifinal against Holland before being beaten twice by powerful long-rangers. At 36. his international career seemed to be in balance, but Zoff it was who led Italy in the next World Cup. He won his 100th cap for Italy in this tournament and he came out with flying colours in the match against Poland, which ended in a goalless draw. The Italians who started off badly then went on to win the title, and Zoff played a prominent role behind this triumph leading his side with distinction by keeping the rival forwards at bay. He was 40 then and was hailed as the grand old man of world football. But even at this age, he was confidence personified and went on to play six more internationals for Italy before he announced his retirement.
He figured in 570 first division matches, that included 332 consecutive appearances. After retirement he took charge of the Italian Olympic team in 1988, and then assumed control of his former club, Juventus. He was mostly noted for his agility, courage, anticipation and reflexes and these were the qualities which made him one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.
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