Just take a moment to appreciate the performances of one man at Euro 2012. We’re not talking about any member of Spain’s tournament winning side, a golden generation of Iberian excellence who won the final four-nil.
He needs legs alongside him if you want to see him play at his imperious best. At Milan he was flanked by Gattuso and Seedorf, at Juventus it was Vidal and a youthful Paul Pogba. At Euro 2012 there were three ahead of him: Marchisio, Montolivo and De Rossi. You have to build around Pirlo tactically, but boy can you reap the benefits.
It’s ballet, rhythmic gymnastics, opera. Poetry in motion. It’s Vivaldi, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. Classical and timeless, and it’s all wrapped up in one neat package blue kit. His role is a metronome, swinging the ball back and forth, dictating the tempo of the game and conducting the direction of his sides build-up play. The heartbeat of the team.
After playing with a 3-5-2 formation for the opening two games of the tournament, where the Azzurri drew twice against both Spain and Croatia, Cesare Prandelli reverted to a 4-1-3-2 setup. He pushed Roma’s Danielle De Rossi, who had been deployed as a sweeper in the first two matches, into midfield, alongside Montolivo and Marchisio, crucially ahead of Pirlo. The results were instant, as Italy earned a 2-0 victory over a Trapattoni-managed Republic of Ireland side.
In the quarter finals, they dominated Roy Hodgson’s organised England though were unable to break the deadlock, going through on penalties. Here, Pirlo completed more passes than the entirety of England’s midfield and his panenka penalty flummoxed Joe Hart, doing his damnedest to put the Italians off their spot kicks.
Next up, the German’s were dispatched. There were some defensive scares for the Azzurri. Pirlo was required to clear a goal bound Hummels effort off the line at nil-nil and Gianluigi Buffon was regularly called upon for some goalkeeping heroics, but two superb Mario Balotelli goals saw Italy through.
In the final they ultimately met their match. Having drawn with the World Champions in their opening group stage game, the Italians sadly succumbed to Spain’s tiki-taka. A beguiling Spanish midfield cut through the Italians like a hot knife through Tiramisu, exhausting an exposed Pirlo, unable to stamp his authority on the game. They’d punched above their weight throughout and were decisively defeated in the showpiece final.
Thankfully, for the Italians, this isn’t the enduring memory of their tournament. Just the silhouette of one man. The artistry, the mercurial midfield play, the trotting, long-haired playmaking presence, hovering just ahead of his back four. The eternal rhythm of the midfield metronome chimes on.
Words by: Luke Connelly