Italy boss Conte slams Pirlo criticism

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The coach has lept to the defence of the midfielder, with fellow veteran Buffon also swift to back his long-time team-mate

Italy boss Antonio Conte has hit back at recent criticism of Andrea Pirlo after the player came under fire following a below average performance against Malta.

The 36-year-old was left on the bench in the subsequent match against Bulgaria, but nothing from the player's national team coach suggests that any faith has been lost in his abilities.

"What disappoints me most is the lack of respect shown towards an immense player," Conte told Sky Sport. “He deserves more respect in every way.

"Pirlo cannot be considered irreplaceable one day and the next ready for the scrap heap."

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Gianluigi Buffon, a fellow veteran who reached the 150 caps milestone against Bulgaria, was also quick to defend the midfield icon.

"Every player knows when it's time to stop, but if you ask me Andrea still has plenty to offer," he said. "He could even become crucial for us, as he always has been when games really matter."

PSG and Italy midfielder Marco Verratti has sought to stay out of the debate about who should start alongside him in the Azzurri team.

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