The Juventus midfielder's penalty kick against England in the quarterfinals was a signature moment at Euro 2012 and proved he's still a top playmaker.
But Pirlo is not like most players. And when it was his turn to take a penalty kick, Pirlo took the most direct route to the goal and the result was a thing of pure genius.
“The cool, calculated way Pirlo chipped it,” said England manager Roy Hodgson, “that is something you have or you don't have as a player.”
By now, Pirlo’s cool-as-a-cucumber penalty kick is the signature moment of Euro 2012. The soft chip shot didn’t beat England in Sunday’s quarterfinals; the shot merely tied the shootout at 2-2.
But the emotional impact of Pirlo’s goal cannot be underestimated. England failed to convert its next two PKs while Italy converted its next two to win the match and advance to Thursday’s semifinals against mighty Germany.
“He was very calm indeed,” said Italian manager Cesare Prandelli. “He's an absolute star player who knows exactly what to do, and he did so.”
Pirlo is one of four holdovers from the squad that captured the 2006 World Cup and are now Italy’s most important players, including goalkeeper Gigi Buffon. The 33-year-old midfield maestro, Pirlo led Juventus to an undefeated season in Serie A after AC Milan gave up on him.
Yes, he looks old and couldn’t beat his head coach in a foot race. But Pirlo’s intelligence and vision make him one of the world’s top playmakers.
Prandelli is counting on Pirlo to create chance against the Germans and has already indicated that Italy will not just sit back and defend in Thursday’s semifinals. The Azzurri want to continue to play a more attacking style, one that they used to badly outplay England.
Although Italy failed to score, Prandelli’s team dominated possession and created more chances. Many of those chances were the result of Pirlo finding small openings and playing perfect balls to strikers Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.
Of course, Germany is well aware of how lethal Pirlo can be with the ball at his feet. It was Pirlo’s passing that helped eliminate Germany from the World Cup semifinals six years ago. Pirlo’s diagonal ball in extra time led to Fabio Grosso’s go-ahead goal in Italy’s 2-0 win.
At Euro 2012, Pirlo has been at the top of his game. In Italy’s second group match against Croatia, Pirlo converted a free kick by curving his shot around the wall and into the net.
That was the warm-up for Sunday’s shootout when Pirlo stepped to the penalty spot with Italy trailing 2-1 and desperately needing a goal. Hart, the Manchester City goalkeeper, tried to distract Pirlo by waving his arms and making facial expressions. The histrionics, however, had the reverse effect.
"I saw the goalkeeper was really energized, so that's why I kicked it like that,” Pirlo said. “It was easier that way. From that moment on the English were under pressure."
The Italians call the shot a “cucchiaio" or spoon. It is more commonly referred to as a “Panenka” after Antonin Panenka's hit a similar shot for Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship final against West Germany. In England, they might start calling it a Pirlo.
"If I have to choose one lasting image of the match,” said Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi, “I would say Pirlo's penalty."
How can you possibly argue otherwise? Everyone knows genius when they see it.
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