Another mainstay considered washed up this time last year, the 33-year-old Pirlo put on a virtuoso performance in this tournament, rolling back the years to 2006 when his precision passing from the regista position garnered him the man of the match award for the World Cup final against France and marked him out as one of the best midfield players of his generation.
In these Euros the idea was simple: stop Pirlo, and stop Italy. The execution of that plan, however, was far easier said than done, and indeed was not until Spain was able to do so in the final.
The Spaniards had already gotten a taste of his quality in the tournament, falling victim to a perfectly weighted through ball that Antonio Di Natale buried for the opening goal of the game. In the rematch, they collapsed on him—particularly with fellow pass-master Xavi—not allowing him the space he needed to operate.
The rest of the teams Italy met in the tournament were not so skillful.
Pirlo dominated Croatia in the first half, punctuating the performance with a fantastic free kick goal that gave Italy the lead. Ireland met with a similar fate, falling victim to a goal on a Pirlo corner kick and watching him carve out chances for his strikers—most of which were blocked by desperate Irish defenders doing everything they could to protect Shay Given's goal.
But it was in the knockout stages that Pirlo shined brightest.
After coming out hard against Italy the first 15 minutes, England ceded possession to the Italians for the rest of the match. And Pirlo ended up creating a mind-numbing 25 shots on goal for his teammates, which by some miracle (or disaster, depending on who you root for) never found the net.
He put the capper on the day with a confident, cheeky chip down the middle of the goal in the shootout with his team behind—a move that seemed to unnerve the next two English penalty takers, both of whom missed.
In the semis, the Germans actually changed their formation and lineup in an effort to contain Pirlo—an effort that proved vain. He created well in the first half and, as the Italians protected their lead in the second, he released his teammates for dangerous counterattacks.
Combining this tournament with his stellar season for Juventus this year, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Pirlo has inserted himself as a legitimate third option to Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for the FIFA Ballon d'Or.
The big question now is how much longer the 33-year-old can hang on in the international game.
His display this season certainly shows no signs of slowing down, but some doubt that he will be able to make it to the World Cup in two years. I personally think that he'll have one major tournament left in him before Italy has to start searching for his successor. Who might that be? Time will tell, but keep your eye on Marco Veratti, the teenager whose play spurred Pescara to promotion to the top flight for the first time in nearly 20 years and sparked interest from Juve.
But before we worry about that, take a moment to savor the virtuoso performance that l'architetto put on for us these last three weeks. It's not likely you'll get to see something like it for a while.