The Mae­stro

Seven games that de­fined the re­tir­ing An­drea Pirlo

Global Times - Weekend - - SPORTS - By Jonathan White

An­drea Pirlo’s an­nounce­ment that he has played his last game of soc­cer as pro­fes­sional has been met as ex­pected – with an out­pour­ing of ef­fu­sive praise. The Ital­ian has passed his way into the hearts of his fel­low pro­fes­sion­als and fans world­wide over a 22-year ca­reer that has seen him win the World Cup, the Cham­pi­ons League twice and six Serie A ti­tles.

Like the wine that he so loves – Pirlo owns a vine­yard – he gave the im­pres­sion of im­prov­ing with age, win­ning four Serie A ti­tles in a row with Ju­ven­tus af­ter be­ing al­lowed to leave AC Mi­lan on a free trans­fer in 2011. But from his first game as a 16-year-old at his home­town club Bres­cia to his fi­nal match last week­end at 38, where his New York City FC side’s play­off hopes ended with a loss to the Colum­bus Crew, the man of many glo­ri­ous ep­i­thets has lit up the sport. Here are seven games of the 872 that Pirlo played which de­fined his ca­reer.

1. Italy Un­der-21 vs Czech Repub­lic Un­der-21, UEFA Euro­pean Un­der-21 Cham­pi­onship fi­nal – June 4, 2000

Te­helne Pole, Bratislava, Slo­vakia Pirlo may have gained a rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing im­proved with age but the truth is that he was al­ways a first-rate player. He fin­ished the tour­na­ment as top scorer and best player while also pick­ing up a win­ner’s medal, thanks to his two goals in the fi­nal which Italy won 2-1.

2. AC Mi­lan vs Liver­pool, Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal – May 25, 2005

Ataturk Olympic Sta­dium, Is­tan­bul, Turkey

Mi­lan leg­end Pirlo was once un­wanted mid­fielder Pirlo at In­ter un­til a 2001 swap deal for Ar­gen­tine winger An­dres Guglielmin­pietrob saw Pirlo switch sides at the San Siro. He was reimag­ined as a deep-ly­ing play­maker by Carlo Ancelotti and led the Ros­soneri to Cham­pi­ons League tri­umphs in 2003 and 2007. It was the 2005 fi­nal he fa­mously lost to Liver­pool in Is­tan­bul that lives longer in the mem­ory. Liver­pool came back from 3-0 down to take the game to penal­ties and Pirlo wrote in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy I Think There­fore I Play that he “con­sid­ered quit­ting” be­cause “noth­ing made sense any more.”

3. Italy vs France, FIFA World Cup fi­nal – July 9, 2006

Olympic Sta­dium, Ber­lin, Ger­many

This was all set to be Zine­dine Zi­dane’s fi­nal and it started off that way when the French­man put his side in front, ca­ress­ing a glo­ri­ous Pa­nenka penalty in off Gigi Buf­fon’s bar, but it was an­other of the decade’s iconic mid­field­ers who would tri­umph. Pirlo’s cor­ner led to Marco Mat­er­azzi’s equal­izer and then he scored the open­ing kick of the shootout. He was named man of the match – his third of the tour­na­ment – and fin­ished with the most as­sists.

4. AC Mi­lan vs Manch­ester United, Cham­pi­ons League sec­ond round – Fe­bru­ary 23, 2010

San Siro, Mi­lan, Italy

In the first leg of their first knock­out-round clash, Manch­ester United man­ager Sir Alex Fer­gu­son em­ployed his South Korean mid­fielder Park Ji-sung in a man-mark­ing role on Pirlo, hav­ing iden­ti­fied the Ital­ian as Mi­lan’s key player. It worked – United won 3-2 – but was re­mem­bered by Pirlo in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. He re­ferred to Fer­gu­son as “a man with­out blem­ish, but he ru­ined that pu­rity just for a mo­ment when it came to me,” and he called Park the “first nu­clear-pow­ered South Korean in his­tory.” Park saw his job as rooted in re­spect be­cause Pirlo was “one of the best in the world.”

5. Italy vs Eng­land, UEFA Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship quar­ter­fi­nal – June 24, 2012

Olympic Sta­dium, Kiev, Ukraine Italy had dom­i­nated the game to such an ex­tent that they had en­joyed two-thirds of the pos­ses­sion, much of that through Pirlo him­self, and fash­ioned the clearer chances over 120 min­utes but the match would be de­cided by penal­ties. Pirlo stepped up to take his side’s third penalty with the score tied at 2-2 and calmly chipped the ball straight down the mid­dle of Joe Hart’s goal af­ter wait­ing for the Eng­land keeper to dive. Italy won and went on to reach the fi­nal where they lost to Spain.

6. Real Madrid vs Ju­ven­tus, Cham­pi­ons League group stage – Oc­to­ber 23, 2013

San­ti­ago Bern­abeu, Madrid, Spain A game that fin­ished 2-1 to the home side was made un­for­get­table by the rare sight of the Madrid fans ap­plaud­ing the Ital­ian off when he was sub­sti­tuted on the hour mark. To ce­ment Pirlo’s sta­tus as one of the game’s greats and the Madrid fans’ rep­u­ta­tion for ap­pre­ci­at­ing ta­lented play­ers what­ever shirt they are wear­ing, he re­ceived an ova­tion when the sides met in the 2015 Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nals. Sadly, Barcelona’s play­ers were not as ac­com­mo­dat­ing and de­nied Pirlo a fairy-tale farewell in the fi­nal, his last game be­fore leav­ing for the Ma­jor League Soc­cer.

7. Italy vs Mex­ico, FIFA Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup – June 16, 2013

Es­ta­dio Mara­cana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

On his 100th ap­pear­ance for the Az­zuri, then only the fifth player to reach a cen­te­nary of caps for Italy, Pirlo demon­strated his trade­mark free-kick prow­ess to open the scor­ing in front of 73,000 fans in what is ar­guably the world’s most iconic soc­cer sta­dium, the Mara­cana. It was Italy’s first-ever goal at the ground and there was no more fit­ting player to score it. Pirlo would win 16 more caps in­clud­ing re­turn­ing to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

An­drea Pirlo passes the ball dur­ing New York City FC’s Ma­jor League Soc­cer match against Mon­treal Im­pact on March 18 in New York City.

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