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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.

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Have your say...
@anonymous

At least be man enought to state you name when you trash talk. Saying tha beckham was mediocre is absurd. Ask anyone who actually made a living as. A player or coach or involved in football more then a blog.

@ Marc f

I've been a Milan fan since 89-90. In sure we would have much to discuss. I'm very happy we got rid of seedorf at the end as he just didn't keep it up. Amazing player throughout the years, no doubt.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 2:26pm
It is not unreasonable at all to compare the two players as they have similar characteristics but I think Pirlo has better vision and when he's on the top of his game he is much more influential, quite unique.

That being said, Beckham's commercial success off the football field should not be used to tarnish all he achieved as a player. He earned his place among the finest England produced.

After all, Man U and Real Madrid are not known to employ "above average" players.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 1:49pm
Victor you are a joke!!! How can you even compare Beckham with the legend Pirlo. All Beckham had was long passes and freekicks, he had no skills dribble anyone , he could never do what Pirlo does, sit in the middle of the park and direct the game like a true magician. All what Beckham was good for is to sell underwear !!!! Never won anything v important. Another one of the English media puppets.

FORZA PIRLO
on the 18th June, 2013 at 11:54am
I liked the formation. However Marchisio is more suited to a central midfield role and I would like to have seen Giovinco play that role instead. Giaccherini was a positive, but in the future I would like to see Rossi and Insigne take those positions. I'm still not convinced by Abate as a right back, I like him going forward, but defensively he's weak. He should still be in the squad but used as a Winger in a 4-4-2 - I would prefer to see De Sciglio there instead and Santon play left back.
on the 18th June, 2013 at 7:20am
Beckham's celebrity is far greater than his footballing talent. Pirlo is a footballer period. No courting the media, no living his life constantly in the public gaze. Pirlo is the master. How many players dominate a match from a deep-laying midfield role? Pirlo is a genuine world class player and the greatest compliment I can give him is that he could play in the Spanish midfield and not look out of place. How many current players can you say that about?
on the 18th June, 2013 at 5:06am
I am a mexican and I was highly disappointed w/ Mexico's performance its as if they didn't realize they were playing a game I've never seen mexico play this poorly against italy they almost always make for a tough opponent as far as italy go they were wasteful score had no business being that close balotelli and pirlo were best giac good marchisio was a ghost cerci wasn't that great but at least u could tell he was there
on the 18th June, 2013 at 12:04am
no words for Pirlo, privilege to see him play. Such players are the reason why people goto watch football.De rossi superb in front of defence, brings solidity and security, marchisio should be moved into a deeper role a la euro 2012, monty will improve, gilardino with his hyper energy could offer a surprise as a super sub.Italy shud think of using cretive in form strikers for 2014 to bck balo.( di natale doing very well in serie A and cassano gr8 displays in euro 2012 ).SES shud play to add pace
on the 17th June, 2013 at 9:41pm
@Viktor, Beckham is average at best. He ALWAYS crumpled when it counted, and unlike Pirlo, (who has won a World Cup as well as leading Italy to the Euro Final last year, and also, at his age, has led Milan, and then Juventus, to the scudetto) has no international pedigree.

The only reason that Beckham is lauded at all is because he was the best of a terrible generation of English footballers. No World Cups, no Euros, not even any finals. Mediocrity is the best word to define Beckham's career.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 9:27pm
Of course I liked what Pirlo done, and for an opening game of an tournament , it was case of job done, a win, three points in the bag… I was impressed by De Sciglio, totally unfazed, in fact he relished the opportunity and his attacking runs, reminded me of Antonio Cabrini. Only his 5th cap, I am sure he will bloom into a major part of the Azzurri, a star was born last night
on the 17th June, 2013 at 9:24pm
@victor i didn't say he had a bad game just wasted so many crosses. To high/hard/long. I raise that because i think....if we played Spain/Brazil we cant make those mistakes and even Pirlo occasionally fluffed.

@Dino very true. Mexico gave Italy space and as GianC said....were wasteful. The top boys will not give any favors on the ball.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 8:02pm
Pirlo is the 1 i will always show to my son A TRUE LEGENG, MASTER OF FOOTBALL WHAT A JOY 2 WATCH.
Messi, CR joke magazin brands no more just part of the bussiness.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 6:33pm
Viktor....! Dont even put beckham in the same sentence as pirlo! Beckham should be cleaning pirlos boots!! Beckham was good for 1 thing mate and thats photographs once the photos stopped so did his career. Everywhere he went the sole purpose was shirt sales, no team took him for the player just for his face and wife... brand beckham, hel never be classed as one of the greats of football. You need to pick a new site mate football isnt your thing!
on the 17th June, 2013 at 6:06pm
Does anyone realize the formation was little more than a 3-5-2? Giaccherini was a support forward in an advanced position, the tactic was for Balo to come into midfiled to draw the Mexican defece up and slip Gia in behind to take advantage of his speed. De Sciglio at LWB made it possible to move to a 4-5-1 on the fly with Gia moving back. This is why CP likes Gia. Clever once again from CP. Watch the game again.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 5:23pm
@ Marc F and Viktor,

I have to agree with Marc F, Pirlo in my opinion is far superior to Beckham. Beckham had great passing and free kick, but his career was a sell out after Real Madrid.
Plus he can't control the ball and game as much as Pirlo. Over rated Beckham, I have to say only just!

I've been supporting Italy since USA 94, when I was 10 years old. Us Italian fans have been through some hard times. Pirlo is world Class along with a few of his senior team mates. And yes I'm part Italian.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 4:51pm
Viktor yes beckham was a great fantastic player dont get me wrong as im Italian and lived here in the uk all my life ive seen the best of both of them as i follow both Italian and English football but i do honestly think pirlo has that edge over beckham pirlo manages to cut those defences with his perfect passes and skill but i dont think beckham quite had that beckham was all about his free kicks and pace maybe but pirlo will be remembered on the international stage more than beckham!
on the 17th June, 2013 at 4:26pm
Very good performance by Italy, awful by Mexico with their captain bring an embarrassment. Most of Italy side were very good but Giacc seems to me like a British player, excellent work rate and off the ball running but little quality on the ball. I have never seen Marchisio play well for Italy or turn up in champions league so I think he should be dropped. Barzagli was culpable for the goal but other than that was good. De Sciglo was excellent albeit too right footed on the left.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 4:21pm
@ Viktor, I do have respect for non Italian players..SON! My fav team is Milan and my fav player ever is a Non Italian named Seedorf. You can call my OPINION all the names you want. I respect Beckham, is was a good player but I'm sure most will agree that there was way more STYLE than SUBSTANCE with him. Maybe don't judge based on the fact that I'm Italian decent becuase I'm pretty sure that Clarence is Dutch. Sorry to shoot your theory down. Have a pleasant day.. SON! lol
on the 17th June, 2013 at 4:00pm
@Anonymous - " its amazing what a fantastic player he has become over the last 5 years."

Genuinely laughing out loud! Do you work for the BBC? Where have you been? I guess his man of the match performances in the World cup and Champions league finals were before he was any good!
on the 17th June, 2013 at 3:49pm
@Tino Baggio
What on earth are you talking about Mexico is a good team to go up against and we handled it well we actually just need to be more decisive Infront of goal, Montolivio and di Scigilio impressed me personally, pirlo balotelli and second half giacherreni were brilliant, de Rossi just needs to sit deeper as an anchor to protect all that space behind pirlo and Infront of the defence, bravo to Italy for a good performance, my only concern... Cerci!!! Seriously?? He's terrible!! lol!
on the 17th June, 2013 at 3:39pm
PIRLO=CLASS. period. ...but what irritates me the most is how no one ever talks about daniele de rossi. the enforcer, the protector of andrea pirlo. pirlo is able to do the things he does because of guys like de rossi. pirlo doesn't tackle, pirlo don't go up clashing for headers. de rossi does what gattuso did, but is a much, much, much better player. with out daniele, andrea could not possibly pull the strings in the midfield like he does.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 3:36pm
@Marc F

"Beckham was an average player?" Sometime I read the stupidest things on this blog. Son, Beckham is just as much legend as Pirlo. Wonderful performance of pirlo however lately i get the feeling he steps on the ball too much. The man is incredible but age is starting to take its toll. So the 20 years at Man u wasnt good enough for you?

I know your italian but have some respect for players whoes not Italian.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0GESlaVNdE
on the 17th June, 2013 at 2:52pm
I actually thought that Giacherini played a poor game. His first touches were not very good and he coughed up the ball often. His pass to Balo was crucial but overall I don't think he played well. Now the Mexican coach is saying that the ONLY difference was that minute where Mario scored lol. Really?? And the 70+ minutes played in your end didn't mean anything lol? Mexico had one good chance when they hit the bar. Other than that they did nothing. Hey Mr.Mexico coach don't be a sore loser.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 2:48pm
@Tino Baggio

Funny I thought de sciglio was on of the better players on the field.. you sure you watched the same game??
on the 17th June, 2013 at 2:45pm
I just want to say a big well done to Italy for their win over mexico i thought it was going to be a tough match but Italy were the better team by far made me laugh how the mexico coach was trying to say there wasnt a difference between the two sides what match was he watching! and as for pirlo and balotelli more of the same against Japan please!
on the 17th June, 2013 at 2:02pm
The Azzurri looked good, but I have no idea why Mexico allowed Italy so much space. They basically just sat back and let Italy come to them. We'll see how the Azzurri play against teams that pressure the midfield and defense.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 1:45pm
I am a juve fan and I always praise players who are in the italy team like pirlo and buffon, I watched the game last night on the bbc and I was concerned about Marchisio and his position within the Auzurri, he was quiet and really different from what I expected, Does CP think he is CAM behind Balotelli? I see him as a work horse (another de rossi) he should be played much deeper. Giaccherini had a good game despite being clumsy with chances in the final third, CP really likes him.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 1:31pm
Happy with the result but Italy's performance was..well mediocre really. Not complaining as enough was done to get the points....just! However you hit it on the head GianC 'Question marks must remain about how this tactical line-up might perform against better opposition' and 'Italy’s wastefulness' unfortunately the same old story but lets hope that they step up their game against the big guns.

Giacherini bravo
Cerci too. didn't do much but didn't lose the ball
Di Sciglio wasted too many cross
on the 17th June, 2013 at 1:12pm
Pirlo is all class. This guy is amazing. No disrespect to David Beckham but Pirlo is worlds above what David is/was. Bend it like Beckham?? Bend it like Pirlo baby. Beckham was an above average player, not the great that the media would have you believe. He's more known for his celebrity than his footballing. Pirlo is all talent and seems to live with humility. Forza Andrea, Forza Azzurri!!!
on the 17th June, 2013 at 1:04pm
He is truly something special a piece of history and a privilege to watch.
on the 17th June, 2013 at 12:52pm
pirlo is the greatest midfielder alive today. it's in what he attempts. the long passes and the forcing players to barge him off the ball. after all, how else would they get it?
on the 17th June, 2013 at 12:46pm

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