Only the fifth Italian player to win 100 caps, Andrea Pirlo said his childhood dreams were nothing compared to the way he celebrated the milestone by scoring a trademark free-kick at the Maracanã as the Azzurri beat Mexico 2-1 in their FIFA Confederations Cup opener.
The crowd at the rebuilt Rio de Janeiro stadium were chanting Pirlo's name before he took the 27th-minute set piece and the Italy playmaker repaid them by finding the top corner with a wonderful curled shot. "It's a great feeling to reach 100 caps and not even in my childhood dreams could I have hoped to mark it with a goal at the historic Maracanã," the 34-year-old said.
Though Javier Hernández equalised Pirlo's strike from the spot for Mexico, Mario Balotelli earned Italy three Group A points with an emphatic finish 12 minutes from time. "It wasn't easy to play in this heat," Pirlo added. "But the opening game is always crucial as it helps your confidence."
By achieving his century of appearances, Pirlo entered a select club containing Italy greats Fabio Cannavaro (136 caps), Gianluigi Buffon (129), Paolo Maldini (126) and Dino Zoff (112). "I feel important for my teams, but terms like 'world class' and 'champion' are not for me and I'd never use them," said Pirlo, who helped the Azzurri lift the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and get to the UEFA EURO 2012 final last summer a decade after his debut against Azerbaijan.
As for the goal, the Juventus schemer added: "It was a free-kick, one of my typical goals. In fact, I could have scored more tonight, but the free-kick I put under the wall hit a team-mate while another finished just wide. However, I am pleased with the victory and that I made the fans happy."
Goalkeeper Buffon, now seven matches shy of Cannavaro's record, said: "Pirlo's free-kick was a masterpiece. He gave himself the best present by scoring a goal like that on his 100th appearance and at the Maracanã. A present that a great player like him fully deserved."
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