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EURO 2012 spotlight: How brilliant was Italy's Andrea Pirlo?

Italy legend Andrea Pirlo may not have won EURO 2012 but he was undoubtedly one of its stars.

EURO 2012 highlights: Spotlight on Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo is one of the cult heroes of football in the early 2000s. Stylish – both on and off the pitch – and always capable of a piece of magic, he is an icon across the continent. His chipped penalty against England is one of the images of UEFA EURO 2012.

EURO 2012

• Pirlo had turned 33 in the weeks before the tournament started, and had just celebrated winning a second successive Serie A title, and his first after swapping AC Milan for Juventus.

EURO 2012 highlights: Italy's quarter-final penalty shoot-out win

• Italy, six years on from their FIFA World Cup win, were among the pre-tournament favourites in Poland and Ukraine, with Pirlo the heartbeat of their side.

• They had qualified unbeaten for the tournament, with eight wins and two draws in a group alongside Estonia, Serbia, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands. The Azzurri only conceded two goals in their ten matches, one to surprise group runners-up Estonia and the other against Serbia. Pirlo, who was vice-captain of Italy by this time, made nine appearances in Group C, scoring one goal, a late fifth against the Faroes in Florence.

• He was one of seven Juventus players named in Cesare Prandelli's squad for the tournament.

• Italy were drawn in Group C for the finals alongside world and European champions Spain, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland – and their opening game was a mouth-watering contest against the top seeds, which would also be a prequel to the eventual final. An enthralling game ended 1-1, with Antonio Di Natale opening the scoring for Italy after Pirlo's superb assist.

EURO 2012 highlights: Pirlo converts a free-kick against Croatia

• He went one better against Croatia In the second game, opening the scoring with a free-kick, but the game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Pirlo named as man of the match.

• Victory was a must for Italy in their final group game against already-eliminated Republic of Ireland, and again Pirlo stood out, his corner converted by Antonio Cassano to set his side on the way to a 2-0 win.

• England awaited in the quarter-final, and Pirlo was again man of the match, completing more passes in the match on his own than the entire England midfield put together. But the game ended 0-0 after 120 minutes and went to penalties, where it was Italy who progressed, 4-2, with Pirlo's audacious chipped effort the stand-out.

• Germany were then defeated 2-1 in the semi-finals, with a third successive man of the match title for Pirlo, who ran the show once more and started the move for Mario Balotelli's opener.

• The final was a step too far for this classy Italy side, as they were brushed aside 4-0 as Spain won their third consecutive international title, retaining their EURO crown in the process.

What you might not know

• Pirlo's 131 passes in the victory over England was the second most completed by an individual player in a match in UEFA European Championship history.

EURO 2012 highlights: Italy's 2-1 semi-final victory over Germany

• Spain's Andrés Iniesta was the only other player to win three man of the match awards at UEFA EURO 2012, and he subsequently pipped Pirlo to the player of the tournament prize.

• Pirlo's Italy team-mates nicknamed him "The Architect" because of the way he built up the play and set up goals in his inimitable style.

• In 2007, Pirlo founded a winery close to his family home in Brescia. It now produces between 25,000 and 30,000 bottles a year.

• A limited edition boot was produced in Pirlo's honour, the Tiempo Pirlo, which also had nods to his wine-making.

What he said

"At the moment I saw the goalkeeper making strange movements, so I waited for him to move and hit it like that ... It was easier for me to chip it at that stage. Maybe my effort put some pressure on England."

"Being part of a team that belongs to everyone makes me feel good and at peace with myself."

"Many times an assist is more difficult than a goal; you need to find the right space and measure the force used in order to provide your team-mate with the right position in order to score."

Pirlo on his Panenka penalty against England

"All I'm after is a few square metres to be myself. A space where I can continue to profess my creed: take the ball, give it to a team-mate, my team-mate scores. It's called an assist, and it's my way of spreading happiness."

"One part of my job I'll never learn to love is the pre-match warm-up. I hate it with every fibre of my being. It actually disgusts me."

What they said

"Pirlo is a genius. Together with Baggio, I think he's the greatest talent that Italian football has produced in the last 25 years."
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy goalkeeper at UEFA EURO 2012

"Pirlo spots a pass in a split-second that lesser players could spend a whole lifetime waiting to see."
Carlo Ancelotti, legendary Italian coach

"The cool, calculated way that Pirlo had to chip the goalkeeper, that is either something you have or you don’t as a player. You can’t coach that."
Roy Hodgson, England manager at UEFA EURO 2012

"The imperious Andrea Pirlo took the baton and much of the game took place at his sumptuous tempo."
UEFA.com match report of the quarter-final win against England

Finally tally

International: 116 appearances, 13 goals
UEFA club competition: 138 appearances, 11 goals
Domestic competition: 618 appearances, 62 goals

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