Monday June 17 2013
Pirlo – Star of the Century

Andrea Pirlo underlined why he was winning his 100th cap for Italy on Sunday. Giancarlo Rinaldi wraps up the Azzurri’s 2-1 win over Mexico. 

Football fans tend to forget the things for which they should be grateful. Our natural inclination is to take such matters for granted and focus on the areas where our favourites fall short. But, in order to buck that trend, Azzurri supporters really ought to take time out this week to say 100 thank-yous – one for every time Andrea Pirlo has donned his country’s colours.

He wanted to play well in the match with Mexico which brought up his century of full international caps and it showed. He produced a sumptuous display of the kind which has the tifosi bowing down in humble adoration. If you could have bottled and sold his performance, it was the kind of vintage which only a handful of the mega-rich could possibly afford to purchase.

There were the free-kicks – each one delivered with his face a mask of concentration. One he scored, one almost created a goal and another whistled past the post. His mind games with the Mexican goalkeeper were the kind of exquisite torture Shane Warne used to take great delight in exacting on an opposing batsman. Poor Jose Corona could have been forgiven if he was still so bamboozled by bedtime that he dived into a waiting wardrobe mistaking it for the warm welcome of his duvet.

And then there was the ball protection and pinpoint passing. There is a school of thought that younger and more athletic players can hustle Pirlo off the ball these days, but the collective forces of El Tri were not enough to trouble him. In this opening game of Italy’s Confederations Cup campaign he was as smooth and stylish as some Hollywood idol who quite effortlessly oozes screen presence. It was a display well worth paying the extra for the 3D glasses, if only in order to swoon in that extra dimension.

His was the undoubted starring role in a game which assuaged some fears – many of them my own – about how seriously the Azzurri might take the tournament. They raised their play several notches from the recent World Cup qualifier with the Czech Republic and shambolic friendly against Haiti. They actually performed in a manner worthy of four-time winners of that more major competition taking place in Brazil next summer.

And yet, until late in the game, the Christmas tree formation selected by Cesare Prandelli threatened to be more tinsel than timber. For all their possession and creation of chances, they looked like being held to a draw after an Andrea Barzagli blunder gifted Mexico an equaliser via Chicharito Hernandez from the penalty spot. It took a determined finish from Mario Balotelli 12 minutes from time to deliver the gift of a precious victory.

That powerhouse piece of goalscoring was another plus point from the game. There is always the slight suspicion that Prandelli sides might be more inclined towards good football than actually winning matches. But, in the Milan hitman, they have definitely got a forward who adds a little extra substance to their undoubted style.

It wouldn’t be Super Mario, of course, if his strike was not tainted a little by his exuberant strip-tease celebration. His manager was not pleased and let him know about it when he was substituted in the closing stages. The yellow card he picked up for showing off his marvellous muscles may not matter much now but, in 12 months time, such actions could be the difference between triumph and disaster at the World Cup proper.

Balotelli worked well as the focal point of Italy’s 4-3-2-1 and Emanuele Giaccherini was in sparkling form as one of the two playing in behind him. He got into great positions and showed some magnificent movement without ever quite delivering the killer pass or shot on goal. More seasoned Juventus followers will tell you that is his default setting during a match.

But what worked for one Bianconero did not seem to assist another. Claudio Marchisio failed to make the impact a player of his quality should have done in the second slot behind the striker. The position did not seem to suit his skill-set but his formline also seems to have tailed off a little of late.

There is no more to say about the perfect Pirlo and he was ably flanked by Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi. And, while the normally rock solid Giorgio Chiellini and Barzagli partnership in central defence had its odd shaky moment, there was reason to be cheerful on the left side of the Azzurri’s back line. Mattia De Sciglio has slotted into the Italy set-up as if he was born to be there. There is probably a strong case for switching him to the right side in the long term but, in the meantime, Ignazio Abate was competent in that position. In goal there was little for Gigi Buffon to do, other than pick out that Hernandez penalty from the back of the net.

Sub Alessio Cerci was pretty ineffective but, as was the case for Marchisio, he perhaps had a positional excuse. The other two late replacements were a pair of AlbertosAquilani and Gilardino – but they scarcely had time to make an impact. Overall, however, this was an encouraging enough display.

Question marks must remain about how this tactical line-up might perform against better opposition. Mexico looked like a team with plenty of problems of their own and kept making unnecessary slip-ups at the back. Another side might well have punished Italy’s wastefulness in front of goal much more severely.

Nonetheless, after the alarm bells of recent matches this game set a much more soothing tone. It hinted that Italy mean business in Brazil and are maybe not quite as jaded or disinterested as they might have seemed. And, even if they don’t win this Confederations Cup, it should give us at least a couple more chances to savour watching Andrea Pirlo on the ball. That is something for which we should all be thankful.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
Thts a true legend a complite athlet,h s an encyclopedia of football I salute u.
on the 22nd June, 2013 at 8:52pm
Spain will still dominate cos unlike Barca, their play is not geared to make 1 player look great to the detriment of others. The more Messi scores the less the others seem to contribute. Germany will always have problems against Spain n Italy cos of they are naturally technically inferior and cannot physically dominate them either. Bayern have players from around the world not just Germany so you cannot use them as a model and like I said Spain is not Barca. 90% of the team comes to the fore.
on the 20th June, 2013 at 10:12am
Italy used 3 5 2 against spain in the group stages last year and it was successful. Our problem is in the last 2 years we have gone thro system after system changing left rite and centre with no clear team formation or anything. Me seem to be the jack of all trades but masters of nothing becoz the players can not settle. We need to master 2 formations and a set group of players that grow together. Spain no 1 system as do barca once tested by bayern they crumbled and I believe spain will do same
on the 19th June, 2013 at 7:00pm
when you watch spain they have at least 4 red shirts in the middle hogging the ball i think you have to put at least 5 in there and even 6 with 2 supporting attacking midfielders you really need to make it hard for spain in the middle and force them to play a longer ball game every time i see them they have it all their own way no coincidence first italy spain game italy played 352 and matched spain reverted to a diamond in the final and was crushed 442 pff
on the 19th June, 2013 at 4:49pm
germany wont beat tic tac football the their golden generation is now and they look ordinary to me they also crashed at the under 21s and they was supposed to win the last euros but was completely destroyed by italy.personally ive been thinking about the problem which is spain and i would like your thoughts on this the more i see balo the more he looks and plays like drogba he can easily play a lone striker role for me i think italy should be bold in their formation.and play a 451 or even a 361.
on the 19th June, 2013 at 4:45pm
Your right Spain clearly are a cut above the rest by a long way but Italy are one of a very few nations who can come close to pushing spain a little
on the 19th June, 2013 at 4:41pm
Every nation has their time, spain are clearly a cut above the rest but they have also been fortunate that all the major powers of world football are going or have been going thro transition periods. Italy were very strong thro the 90s and early 00s where we in truth could have won any of the trophies in those times. Germany however will soon be the force to beat tic tac footy wont last much longer.
on the 19th June, 2013 at 2:58pm

So giaccarini and David Beckham have similarities now? Oh my.
on the 19th June, 2013 at 1:36pm
Barca n Spain make it easy for Xavi to play 1-2 balls cos of the way they play. More options for Xavi unlike Juve n Italy. Xavi plays the ball more to his right to Alves but doesn't do it much for Spain cos Arbeloa is useless. Pirlo will play you in whether you are on the right or the left as long as you make the run behind the defence. Xavi would do a 360 if you are to his left.Xavi is better but Pirlo releases the killer pass quicker. When is bad tho is he awful. Xavi is rarely awful
on the 19th June, 2013 at 12:53pm
Pirlo has more depth to his game than Xavi, but the Spaniard pings the ball around a lot quicker, & he has sharper turning circles. Spain were awesome yesterday! We have made progress, but more Serie A coaches have to show more bottle in giving our youngsters a chance. In Spain, many 17/18 year olds are given exposure to top flight football, whereas in Italy, we tend to wait until they are around 20/21; & even then they are mostly shipped to Serie B.
on the 19th June, 2013 at 10:01am
Listen up ppl. Pirlo is my favorite player ever I watch him all the time. But beckham was puppets by the media but still a great player, more like giaccarini. Giaccarini is a great player but borderline super star like gattusso was and beckham.
on the 19th June, 2013 at 5:14am
anyone that watches juventus like i do will see how many times pirlo slows the game down when there is a chance to counter,i have lost count how many times he has been robbed of the ball on hes own penalty area and the Spanish midfield play much quicker football pirlo doesn't play one twos or give and goes none of the Italian midfield does your delusional if you think italy can compete with spain in any area other than the goal keeper under 21 proves this tonight italy should of had another ball
on the 18th June, 2013 at 10:21pm
@Viktor. You cant accuse me of not knowing about football when you put Beckham in the same category as pirlo. I'm Milan through and through and have been through good and bad. If seen Italy win 2 world cups in my life time, watched Milan dominate through the 90s. Iv also played at a high level myself.. so I am more than capable of telling a man that he is deluded that sees Beckham as a
great. BRAND Beckham= shirt sales that's all these teams want, once the sales went down they sent him packing!
on the 18th June, 2013 at 10:17pm
Paul Scholes was the best player of England's "golden generation" not Beckham. Scholes' problem, was that he was constantly played out of position, when the team should have been built around him. Beckham was a good player, but he couldn't control and dominate a game like Scholes or Pirlo. Pirlo and Scholes played at the top for their whole career's, whereas Beckham semi-retired when he went to play in Los Angeles, when he thought his International career was over.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 10:05pm
@marc f

I would take giggsy too or scholars before becks. How c'mon the guy was great for 20 years. No need( not you) but others to give him hell. He had some astonishing years just like pirlo
on the 18th June, 2013 at 9:22pm
Spain were a breed apart but Mangia is right these guys need to be playing for clubs in serie A regularly. The foreigners I see playing for Lazio, Inter n Napoli e.g are no better than these guys. @Paul Pirlo is not slow in releasing the ball, he does it quicker than Xavi and Iniesta and they are the best in the world in midfield.I am also sure he will beat Xabi alonso in a race, another top class midfielder. Not sure what your posts are about. U think Montoya is more skilful than Pirlo Really!!
on the 18th June, 2013 at 8:36pm
@ VIKTOR.. FYI I'm 37. So i've been watching Milan for a long time and yes i do watch the EPL and rememeber Beckham in the 90s so not sure what you're suggesting. I just think Beckham had more hype than because of his celebrity. He's a good player but I just don't think he's in Pirlo's class. I'd take Ryan Giggs over Beckham any day just so you don't think i have an issue with non Italians.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 7:17pm

I'm not familiar with the media channel you so casually told us about. "Star" or whatever it was. Your most likely a juve fan who been saying prayers for pirlo, ONCE he arrived at juve not before. I never neglected the simple fact that pirlo is amazing especially for he's age. However, you know extremely little of football f you think beckham only was good at set pieces. Clearly pirlo and beckham have similarities in the way of playing football. Wrong site for you kiddo
on the 18th June, 2013 at 7:03pm
@r contini.. lol. Pirlo has always been class above the rest, he has just astonished me that he has got even better in his 30s. Believe me I saw all the quality games he has had over the years. He will go down as 1 of the greats of world football unlike Beckham whol go down as `ok mags` finest!!!! Sorry again contini
on the 18th June, 2013 at 6:26pm
just to but in beckham is one of if not the most over rated player there has been for the amount of hype he was given over the years you would think he was pele and marradona rolled into one and im still to this day waiting to see him strip a full back for pace and skill
on the 18th June, 2013 at 6:20pm
@Viktor.... wrong site for you mate. You need 'ok' and 'star' magazine.. thats where youl find beckhams, this sites about football. And 'trash talk' is coming on to a football site and trying to tell us that david beckham is equal to pirlo. Hahahah your a joke. Oo and im only 1 anonymous the other one clearly understands football aswell!!!
on the 18th June, 2013 at 5:53pm
pirlo is not suited for a quick game and modern day football is about pace and quick passing of the ball italy lack in both and when you see the under 21s tonight look how many red shirts their are in midfield they swamp it. pirlo veratti italy are light years behind the spanish and italy will never change because of their arrogance spain did change and i cant see them losing anytime soon at international level so me as a juve fan pirlo to slow and doesnt release the ball quick enough.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 5:39pm
As I don't want to repeat my self again, I've been in England for 20 years and probably I've watched Beckham playing more that I watched Pirlo ( watched Beckham from when he started playing, Victor) and when Beckham effected the game only with 1 moment of magic, either a freekick or a longpass and that's it , Pirlo in the other hand does the magic for 90 min. Real Madrid bought Beckham only to sell shirts, he was not even average in Madrid
on the 18th June, 2013 at 5:36pm
im no fan of spain but spain would wipe the floor with italy like they did in the euros and just when you think their era is coming to a end take a look at their under 21s that we have to endure.when you look at spain and how they play pirlo is ordinary because he plays to slow and to compete with spain you have to play their game stuff the midfield and zip the ball around and italy simply dont do that.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 5:35pm
italy need more than a pirlo to compete with spain after seeing the gulf in class between spain and italy at under 21 level i cant see italy winning anything in the next ten years ,we rave about pirlo verrati but spain full backs can do what they do plus the other 9 players.italy need to completely re think how they play football to even compete with spain the gulf in class at under 21 level is a joke italy will always be behind spain unless they change their whole outlook on the game .
on the 18th June, 2013 at 5:30pm
let's get this right, Pirlo is a classy player. But in the past 2 years he's had an awful lot of new fans singing his praises, for doing nothing more than he'd already done before. He's played the same way for 10+ years and never had so much attention.

Pirlo is the current flavor of the month, who will the media have us believe is the next?
on the 18th June, 2013 at 3:50pm
Great post Snakeskin, I agree with everything you have said. In 1994 & 2002 Mexico really took the game to Italy. On Sunday, Italy controlled the game. Cerci & Diamanti do show a lot more for Italy, than Marchisio tends to do. Their only problem is that they appear to get over-excited when they get near the goal and mess up. They are still a bit green at International level. With more experience, hopefully we will see them, reproduce the end product that they have shown for their clubs.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 3:27pm
Beckham wasn't at Pirlo's level, but he still had some fine qualities. His set-piece skills were very good, & his crosses/long passes were outstanding. His composure was also good-something that is missing in many English players.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 3:04pm

Couldn't have said it better myself. Problem is a lot of post here from younger people. Doubt they even watched beckham at Man U.

I'm saying t again Pirlo is incredible at he's age but posting nonsense about beckham being mediocre and stuff that's just plain rubbish. I've never even been a beckham fan however like Zoli said they have great similarities, anyone who watched football over the last 30 years will tell you that.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 2:38pm

Ummm you make no sense what so ever. Pirlo is great stunning player, but saying he has good dribbling skills might be a tad over the top. Bare in mind, he's a player who played for my team for 10 years and I'm a big admirer however I'm also realistic.

When it comes to crosses and free kicks I say they we're pretty equal. Now pirlo have a pretty much down to earth life style and for that I admire him. But trash talking beckham for being used on underwear adds is just embarrassing.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 2:33pm

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