With the start of Euro 2012 just over a week away, Goal.com International's Italy expert Alex Mott profiles Juventus and Azzurri maestro Andrea Pirlo.
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As the creative hub from which everything revolves, Andrea Pirlo is the key cog in Cesare Prandelli's Italian machine. Dubbed 'l'architetto' (the architect) by teammates, his vision and range of passing make him arguably the best deep-lying playmaker in the world - and that's certainly something Italy will want to exploit in Poland and Ukraine. With a probable duo of Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio alongside him in the Azzurri midfield, Pirlo will have the freedom to pretty much do as he pleases, a trick he has perfected for Juventus this past season.
The Lombardy-born midfielder has enjoyed something of a renaissance in 2011-12, having left Milan for the Bianconeri last summer. Pirlo is now seen as the catalyst for the Old Lady's Scudetto triumph. His 37 appearances for the Turin giant yielded an astonishing 13 assists, the most in Serie A. And he also contributed three vital goals - at home to Roma and Catania, as well as away at Fiorentina back in March.
Parma boss Franco Colomba put it best when he said back in April: "Pirlo is Juve's extra man, he is the player who has allowed the others around him to grow. I think that has made the real difference this season."
That sentiment was most recently echoed by Italian sports journalists, as they named him Serie A's Player of the Season. Goal.com also bestowed upon him the same honor.
The 32-year-old is one of only four players - along with Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and De Rossi - to have been named in Prandelli's squad on Sunday having won the World Cup in Germany six years ago, a testament to his enduring class. That tournament experience will be crucial in and around the camp, as Italy aims to win its first European Championship in 44 years.
|"I always believed I was number one and I believe I have demonstrated it again this season"
- Pirlo on his 2011-12 season
As well as the obvious high of winning the World Cup in Germany back in 2006, he will also want to make amends for the Azzurri's dreadful showing two years ago in South Africa. It was a tournament to forget for the entire squad, but especially Pirlo, as former boss Marcelo Lippi was unable to use him in the first two games due to injury, sending him on for just half an hour in the last group match against Slovakia.
Prandelli, like Juventus coach Antonio Conte, has made Pirlo the fulcrum of the side. A challenge that the man himself clearly feels he is up to.
"I always believed I was number one and I believe I have demonstrated it again this season," he said.
Italians call him a 'regista', in England he is called a 'quarterback', but whatever he is, no one in Europe can match Andrea Pirlo's calm mastery on a football pitch. He's both metronome and compass, shield and dagger. He is Italy's key man at Euro 2012.Follow Alex Mott on