Pirlo: Prandellis professor on the pitch

10 June 2013 12:19

Italy possess quality players in every position but few have the same impact, or boast the same valuable experience, as deep-lying midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

Pirlo's ball control, vision, passing and dead ball skills are known the world over and have earned the Juventus veteran a string of illustrious nicknames over his years of enjoying success with a pair of top clubs.

Whether being called the 'architect' or the 'professor', Pirlo is one of the few remaining Azzurri 'old guard' along with keeper Gianluigi Buffon and Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi.

He is also the player who has played most under Prandelli, making 32 appearances (30 in the starting line-up) in the coach's 37 games in charge and contributed to 16 of their 18 wins during that time.

Brazil 2014, however, will be Pirlo's international swansong.

"In 2014 I will stop with the national team, I think the World Cup will be my last outing in the blue shirt," Pirlo said in May. "The younger players need to be given their chance."

Italy's loss should be Juventus's gain. He has just celebrated a second successive Serie A title (third including AC Milan's win in 2011) after a campaign in which he was key for the Old Lady's success.

His place in the annals of Italian football history is already secure.

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany Italy met the hosts in the semi-final amid a backdrop of hostility, with the tabloid press goading Italy with headlines such as "Arrivederci Pizza" (Bild).

Italy dominated the first half but the match went into deadlock, prompting Italy coach Marcello Lippi to bring on three forwards.

It took a combination of Pirlo's vision and an inch-perfect pass to help break the deadlock. In the 119th minute the then AC Milan midfielder slid the ball through the German defence where it was picked up by Fabio Grosso.

Grosso, who began his career toiling in Italy's lower divisions, sent a curling first-time effort past keeper Jens Lehmann to give Italy the lead.

Italy scored on the counter-attack minutes later to seal a 2-0 win which booked their place in the final, where, following the sending-off of France playmaker Zinedine Zidane, the Azzurri beat Les Bleus for their fourth World Cup title.

Pirlo's magic was not enough for Italy to avoid a first round elimination from the 2010 World Cup, which the midfielder began on the sidelines due to injury, but he made Prandelli's Euro 2012 squad after a superb first season with Juventus, whom he joined after 10 years and two Champions League titles with Milan.

Despite a flawed build-up to Euro 2012, marred by revelations of match-fixing throughout Italian league football, Pirlo had an outstanding tournament.

Pirlo played a key role with assists and goals as Italy progressed to the knockout stage where, on their way to a 4-2 penalties defeat of England, Pirlo scored with a cheeky, chipped 'Panenka' from the spot.

"I saw the goalkeeper moving in a strange way so I just waited for him to move and hit it. Maybe my effort put some pressure on England," said Pirlo.

Pirlo had a sublime match against Germany in the semi-final where Mario Balotelli scored a brace to send Italy into the final against Spain.

Although Spain humbled the Azzurri 4-0, Pirlo's third man-of-the-match award in the tournament got him elected to the team of the tournament.

Source: AFP