This is the profile that almost did not even need to be written. After all, who on this planet does not know Andrea Pirlo? The meager half a dozen paragraphs that this blog restricts us to are barely enough to scratch the surface of his exploits, and those will have to make do for this preview.
Il Professore first entered the Serie A at the age of 16 with Brescia, from where he moved to Inter Milan. The Nerazzurri however failed to recognize his true abilities and sent him out on a couple of loan spells, before selling him to AC Milan. It is at the other Milanese club where the legend was born as Pirlo redefined the regista position. After winning numerous titles and accolades, he was unceremoniously let go by Milan and promptly signed up with Antonio Conte at Juventus. In Turin he set the tone as part of the soon to be famous three-man midfield, and has been the heartbeat of the side that has won three League titles in a row.
Caps: 109, Goals: 13
Service for Italy: L'architetto has represented Gli Azzurri 109 times, with 13 goals and 23 assists. As always, Pirlo remains the central core of every side he plays on, just the cast around him has been rotating over the years. He captained the U-21 side to a European Championship title in 2000, the Olympics in 2000 and the bronze in the 2004 edition. After making his senior debut in 2002, he won the World Cup with the 2006 side, before missing the first two games with injury in Italy's ignominious exit from the 2010 World Cup. Named vice-captain behind Gianluigi Buffon for the 2012 Euro's, he led the team to the final where they were well-beaten by Spain. The two sides met again in the 2013 Confederations Cup semis, where penalties put paid to the Azzurri's hopes.
What makes him interesting: An entire parade of adjectives and descriptions would not be enough to describe Pirlo completely. Instead, I'll leave you with just a few quotes about the man:
"Is he best player of his generation? Not quite, but he is the most important."
- Michael Cox
"Pirlo is a silent leader. He speaks with his feet."
- Marcello Lippi
"I thought God exists because it's truly embarrassing just how good he is."
- Gianluigi Buffon
"To pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo is like to hide it in a safe."
- Zbigniew Boniek
What to expect in Ghana in 2006, and that set the tone for the team as they went on to win the title. For the Azzurri to shed the label of slow starters, a similar performance against England will be necessary as Group D presents little room for error, as Costa Rica and Uruguay lay in wait after that. The weather will play a big part as fitness and squad rotation become huge factors, so the sooner qualification to the latter rounds is sealed, the better.: Pirlo got Italy off to a flyer against
Spain may be lying in wait in the quarters if everything goes according to form, giving Pirlo another chance to finally beat the new arch-rivals in a major tournament. That might not even be their biggest challenge though, as they might have to face the winner of Argentina and Belgium in the semis and possibly home side Brazil in the final.
Look for Pirlo to be heavily marked throughout the tournament. Personal success might be The Wizard's greatest magic trick yet as he breaks off the physical shackles teams will throw on him to get the other players involved. Pirlo showed little signs of fatigue in last year's Confederations Cup after making 45 club appearances during the season. After another 45 appearances for Juve this year, it will be interesting to see if he looks tired at all again.