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2000: Pirlo makes Italy's day

2000: Pirlo makes Italy's day
Andrea Pirlo enjoys scoring in the final ©Getty Images

2000: Pirlo makes Italy's day

Czech Republic 1-2 Italy
(Došek 51; Pirlo 42 81)
Tehelné Pole, Bratislava

Andrea Pirlo announced himself as one to watch for the future with a pair of goals as Italy claimed their fourth UEFA European Under-21 Championship title in five years with a 2-1 victory against the Czech Republic in Bratislava.

Slovakia through
It was an eventful tournament for the 21-year-old 'fantasista', who scored a penalty in the Azzurrini's 2-0 opening victory against England before being sent off in a 1-1 draw with hosts Slovakia two days later. Italy could afford to be without Pirlo against Turkey in their final Group B match, a 3-1 victory taking them through to the final on goal difference. Slovakia had to settle for the runners-up spot which they claimed at the expense of England. England had thrashed Turkey 6-0 (Frank Lampard and Ledley King among the scorers) but the goals ran dry against the hosts, whose 2-0 victory prolonged their involvement.

Spain third
Like Italy, the Czech Republic advanced to the final undefeated, and were unlucky not to win all three of their matches; only Albert Luque's last-minute strike denied them victory against Spain in Group A's opening game. The Czechs, however, would not be disappointed for long. David Jarolím scored twice as the Netherlands were defeated in Trencin then Milan Baroš was among the goals as the Czechs won a 4-3 thriller against Croatia to top the group. Spain defeated the Netherlands in their final game, but an earlier draw against Croatia meant they had to settle for second spot and a play-off for third place against Slovakia, which they duly won 1-0.

Pirlo shines
So to the final and Pirlo's big day. A strong Italy side included the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Christian Abbiati, Cristiano Zanetti, Francesco Coco and Roberto Baronio and in an entertaining, evenly balanced match Pirlo opened the scoring from the penalty spot on 42 minutes. Tomáš Došek brought a roar from the crowd of 12,000, most of whom had come across the border from the Czech Republic to see the game, when he equalised shortly after half-time, but they would be silenced soon after, Pirlo earning the win with nine minutes to play with a brilliant curling free-kick from 25 metres. Pirlo would soon make that his trademark.