Italy Euro 2012 Focus - Pirlo ready to inspire again
Italy face Germany on Thursday in the second Euro 2012 semi-final with the winners facing defending champions Spain in Sunday’s final. For Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo, widely venerated for his display in the quarter-final, it is an opportunity to turn that praise into something more tangible.
It is six years since Pirlo tasted success at international level as part of the Italy side that won the World Cup on penalties against France. Then of Milan, Pirlo scored a spot kick in the shootout, although not one of the insouciance as was converted against England, but that the playmaker had the courage to step up on the grandest stage of all is evidence if any were needed that a steely streak supports those silky skills. It may well be needed to inspire Italy once more past Germany, an opposition unlikely to be quite as passive as Roy Hodgson’s England.
The European Championships is one of the few major trophies Pirlo has not won in his long and trophy-laden career. The 33-year-old won the Under-21 equivalent in 2000, the same year the senior side reached the final and lost to France, with Pirlo named Player of the Tournament despite a red card early in the competition. Pirlo however returned from suspension to score in the final, ended the tournament as top scorer and picked up an Olympic bronze medal in Sydney that same year.
Despite Pirlo’s success at lower age groups he missed out on the party for the 2002 World Cup as Italy toiled, going out in the second round to co-hosts South Korea. Pirlo was at least part of the squad for Euro 2004 but it was an unglamorous tournament for Italy under Giovanni Trapattoni. The Azzurri bowed out in the group stages, ending level on points with Sweden and Denmark, but a convenient 2-2 draw between the Scandinavians meant Italy were the ones eliminated.
Then came 2006. With the storm of calciopoli raging behind them Italy went to Germany and returned home with the World Cup. Pirlo played a starring role, not only scoring the first penalty of the final shootout but being named Man of the Match and being included in the team of the tournament. Italy could not follow up that glory with victory in Euro 2008 two years later, going out in the quarter-finals to the eventual winners Spain.
The 2010 World Cup was the nadir of not only Pirlo’s international career but Italy’s recent tournament performances, taking only two points and finishing bottom of a group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. It is quite a turnaround from that point to this, standing on the verge of a European Championships final appearance, their first in 12 years, and after being rejuvenated at Juventus Pirlo deserves a great deal of credit for Italy’s success so far. Germany will be Italy’s toughest test since playing Spain in the group stage but Pirlo has throughout his international career risen to the most difficult challenges he could possibly face.
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