Euro 2012: Why Italy's Andrea Pirlo Is the Tournament's Biggest Star
At the age of 33, Andrea Pirlo is still putting in some grandstand performances for the Azzurri.
So far at Euro 2012, he has notched one goal, assisted two and has twice been awarded Man of the Match.
The Italians' style of play has been dictated solely by this man.
His delightful passes and composure on the ball is any team's worst nightmare (just ask England).
Pirlo is so unpredictable when in possession that it makes it almost impossible to defend against him.
He finds pockets of space where many players wouldn't even think to look, and from there, exploits teams with a cutting precision.
Within this midfield maestro is a born leader.
A World Cup winner in 2006, Pirlo has all the necessary experience to lead his side to another major title.
In the midst of a match-fixing scandal which has seen 17 people arrested, the Italians are indebted to the classy Pirlo (and maybe Mario Balotelli) for their progression in the tournament to this point.
Here are a few reasons why I consider him to be Euro 2012's biggest star:
His chip vs. England
Just when the Italians were looking dead and buried, Pirlo stepped up to change the entire complexion of the penalty shootout.
With England leading 2-1, thanks to a Riccardo Montolivo horror show, all the pressure was on Pirlo to make his count.
Another miss would put England on the verge of booking their passage to the next round.
Simply not an option for Pirlo and the Azzurri
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The pivotal moment came when Pirlo coolly chipped the ball straight down the middle, and his cheeky effort nestled in the back of the net.
From there, we saw Italian players chuckling in excitement and English players looking on in dismay.
Ashley Young then smashed England's next spot kick off the bar, followed by a Gianluigi Buffon save low to his left from Ashley Cole's tame strike.
Advantage Italy, who went on to win the shootout 4-2.
The message to all teams coming up against the Italians is simple: stop Pirlo.
Easier said than done, as no one has been able to do so thus far.
The Azzurri, overall, haven't been that impressive at Euro 2012, drawing three out of their four matches.
There always lingers the possibility, however, of a piece of magic from the center of midfield.
Pirlo completed 115 passes in the quarterfinal, more passes than the entire starting midfield of England.
Although none of those 115 were telling passes, they helped keep the Three Lions on the back foot for much of the match.
He may not get the headlines like a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Lionel Messi, but what he brings to his team is the invaluable ability to keep the ball and direct the speed of play.
A true test of his credentials will come in Italy's semifinal showdown against Germany, where Pirlo will pit his wits against a tough-tackling Bastian Schweinsteiger and a silky-smooth Mesut Ozil.
No matter what the outcome, Pirlo will go down in history as one of the greatest Italian players of all time.
Good luck to him in possibly his last major international tournament.
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