It would be easy to think that the Italian midfield consisted of just Andrea Pirlo in the aftermath of the shoot-out victory over England. His awe-inspiring 120-minute lesson on how to pass the ball and dictate play was sublimely punctuated with his nonchalant chipped shoot-out penalty in Kiev on Sunday. His display was class personified.
As Pirlo dinked home his spot-kick that seemed to take an age to ripple the back of the net, Daniele De Rossi watched from the sidelines. Withdrawn late into normal time because of a sciatic nerve problem, he knew he would have been one of the five penalty takers given his past shoot-out experiences at World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008. He wasn’t involved this time around, but if the Azzurri are in the semi-finals of the competition then it has just as much to do with De Rossi’s tenacity as Pirlo’s technique.
Euro 2012, no matter how it ends, should be remembered as the consecration of De Rossi on the international stage. Sure he’s no newcomer to major tournaments given that this is his fourth, but, for the first time, he’s arguably been able to convince non-regular watchers of Serie A that he’s the real deal and provide an explanation as to why he is Roma’s highest earner.
Whether fielded in a three-man defence, as he was against Spain and Croatia, or in a midfield position as against Ireland and England, the man with 76 caps has underlined just how fundamental he is to an Italy side who – outside of Gigi Buffon and Pirlo – do not have the selection of world-class talents that they could rely on in the past. This Italy needed a De Rossi at his peak and they’ve got him.
While Pirlo pulls the strings, there is little doubt that De Rossi is just as fundamental to boss Cesare Prandelli. Described as a universal player by the CT, the tactician’s decision to rely on De Rossi as a centre-back in the absence of Andrea Barzagli underlined how much faith the former Fiorentina boss has in the Roman’s all-round ability. The outcome? He was a monster at the back against Spain.
He didn’t quite make the same sort of notable impression against Croatia and then Ireland, but pupil turned into master on Sunday night when Capitan Futuro came up against idol Steven Gerrard. While Roy Hodgson’s pragmatic tactical shackles made it somewhat easier for the Azzurri to take control of the tie, De Rossi won his personal battle with the Liverpool captain despite a shocking miss from close range.
“There was no competition, De Rossi won the Gerrard duel 3-0,” stated 1982 World Cup hero Paolo Rossi. “He’s a difference maker for this national side, certainly one of the best in the squad. De Rossi has finally exploded and has reached that stage of maturity which allows him to play to his maximum in whatever role Prandelli uses him in. He’s one of the best midfielders in the world and it’s just a shame that he has this injury problem. Let’s hope it is not too serious.”
Less than 48 hours to go and it is still uncertain whether De Rossi, scorer of 10 international goals, will be declared fit to face Germany. He missed the epic semi-final clash between the two nations in the 2006 through suspension, after his four-match ban for his needless elbow on Brian McBride in the 1-1 draw with America. But that was a different De Rossi back then, he was all potential, but now – as Euro 2012 has illustrated – he’s the finished product.