Hart keeps tongue in cheek over Pirlo showdown

12 June 2014 09:31

England goalkeeper Joe Hart has no regrets about goading Italy's Andrea Pirlo in their Euro 2012 penalty shootout face-off, ahead of their World Cup reunion in Manaus on Saturday.

Two years ago, England led 2-1 on penalties in their European Championship quarter-final with Italy in Kiev's Olympic Stadium when Italy midfielder Pirlo walked up to take his side's third spot-kick.

Hart attempted to unsettle the Juventus maestro by poking out his tongue and waggling his hands in the air, but Pirlo called his bluff with a masterful chipped penalty that tipped the momentum in Italy's favour.

Ashley Young hit the bar and Ashley Cole saw his penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon, leaving Antonio Nocerino and Alessandro Diamanti to sweep eventual runners-up Italy into the semi-finals.

Pirlo subsequently explained that he opted for a showy 'Panenka' penalty in order to disturb Hart's composure, but the Manchester City goalkeeper remains unrepentant about his tactics.

"I'll never regret how it was," Hart told journalists ahead of Saturday's Group D game at the Amazonia Arena.

"That was how I saw the best way to win us the shootout. It wasn't, but at the time, it felt like it was.

"I don't think it made any difference or that it was personal. He scored a penalty. I don't think there was any personal vengeance from him.

"There certainly wasn't any thought of that from me. He did what he thought he needed to do for his country; I did what I thought was best for mine."

Having overcome a sticky patch last season that saw him temporarily lose his place in the City starting XI, Hart has rediscovered the form that turned him into his country's undisputed number one.

When he looks down the field on Saturday evening, he will see in 36-year-old Buffon an adversary who has already etched his name into the game's history thanks to his role in Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph.

- 'More than football' -

As the first-choice goalkeeper for one of the world's leading footballing nations, Hart is now measured against greats such as Buffon and Spain's Iker Casillas, but he says that such comparisons do not unnerve him.

"I want to be improving every day," he said.

"I want to be at the top of my game. I've got two amazing opportunities football-wise. I'm playing at such an exciting club like City.

"Potentially they can have whoever they want and I totally understand that, so I need to be at that level to keep my place.

"And playing for England, one of the greatest nations in football history, with fantastic goalkeepers around, so I've got to be at the top.

"The great names you talked about there (Buffon and Casillas) are fantastic, but I'm just trying to be the best I can be in the two sides where I'm trying to stay number one."

As third-choice goalkeeper at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Hart watched from the bench in Rustenburg as Robert Green allowed a tame shot from Clint Dempsey to squirm beneath him in England's opening 1-1 draw with the United States.

Green played for England only once again, but Hart says that the fear of committing a similar blunder does not keep him awake at night.

"I just want to do well at this tournament, for this team and this nation," said the confident 27-year-old.

"A lot of time and effort have gone into it and the more you're involved, the more you realise that it is a lot more than football.

"It means an awful lot to a lot of people, a lot of money has been invested, and you know a lot of our time and our care, from myself personally, has gone into this.

"That's what I want to get out of this tournament. I want to make all that worthwhile."

Source: AFP