Very few people predicted Italy would get this far in Euro 2012. The nation was surrounded by a match-fixing scandal, with probable starting left back Domenico Criscito even having to be pulled out of the squad due to apparent illegal activity.
The national team was on a poor run of form as well, with their last friendly before Euro 2012 being a 3-0 loss to Russia to complete a three-game losing streak. That streak included losses to Uruguay and the United States.
Things weren't looking good for the Azzurri. Expectations were low, and some even predicted a shock group-stage exit. The main question being asked was whether Italy could provide a shining light for the current turmoil in the country with a good Euro 2012 showing, or disappoint the nation with a poor performance.
It's safe to say that even if Italy do lose out to tournament favorites Germany in the semifinals, most Azzurri fans will be satisfied with their team's performance. To make it to the final four of the Euros is an achievement for any team, and it seems like anything that Italy do from now on will certainly be an overachievement.
Italy have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance at Euro 2012, and at the center of that renaissance has been one man: Andrea Pirlo.
The Italian playmaker enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career with Juventus, leading them to the Scudetto through an undefeated campaign. At 33 years old, many people underrate Pirlo because of his age, but the midfielder is simply an example of how class is permanent.
His Euro 2012 performances have been excellent so far, with a sublime free kick against Croatia in the group stage, as well as a superb performance against Spain where he gave the assist for Italy's goal in a 1-1 draw.
But Pirlo topped those performances with his match against England. It was the game of his life; he was the heart and engine of Italy's play and the reason the Azzurri were so dominant in the match. Pirlo seemed to have complete control over everything happening on the pitch, switching the play or sending out long balls with ease. It's been a while since I've seen a player control a match the way Pirlo did against England.
Most players at his age have trouble giving solid performances week in and week out, but Pirlo seems to somehow get better with age. The best thing about him is that his performance against England wasn't a one-off; he's the type of player who somehow manages to consistently be one of the best players on the pitch.
Even with superstars like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gomez bound to be playing for Italy's semifinal clash with Germany, don't bet against Andrea Pirlo being the best player on the pitch. He's done it more than once in Euro 2012 so far, and if he really is as incredible as we think, he'll do it again.
On paper, Germany will book their place in the final against Italy. But we all know football isn't played on paper, and if Andrea Pirlo plays the way he did against England, an upset could be in the offing...
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