Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic paid a glowing tribute to Gianluigi Buffon ahead of Wednesday's Champions League match against Juventus, stating the veteran goalkeeper's heart-wrenching farewell from international football was tough to witness.
Buffon returns to Europe's top competition after Italy's ignominious exit from the World Cup, with Sweden's play-off triumph over the Azzurri denying the 39-year-old a fitting career farewell at Russia 2018.
Asked whether he had any consoling word for Buffon at a pre-match news conference, Rakitic suggested it would be ridiculous to assume there is any wisdom left for all-time great top receive on the beautiful game.
"If I have to explain something about football to Buffon that would be a difficult challenge. I don't think I can say anything to him," said the Croatia international, who helped his nation through their own play-off meeting with Greece at a canter.
"Everything he's given to football fans is one of a kind. Any kid out there who writes down a dream team on a piece of paper puts the name Buffon in goal.
"The interview he gave after the game, you wanted to cry along with him.
"There aren't enough words to describe how one feels in situations, like that. It's a shame that a player like him cannot say farewell in the way he wants."
Rakitic scored past Buffon as Barca beat Juve in the 2015 Champions League final and he is looking forward to facing a celebrated opponent for what is likely to be the last time.
"I don’t know how long I have left to go. I hope it's a long time and I look forward to competing against him tomorrow," he added.
"It's a tough moment right now for the Italy national team. Sometimes you have to take a step or two back to take a step forward and I hope they get back to winning in the future."