Recalling his Under-21 glory days, Italy legend Andrea Pirlo spoke to UEFA.com about the importance of the U21 EURO.
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Andrea Pirlo knows precisely what it takes to succeed at Under-21 level. The legendary midfielder played a key role as Italy won the 2000 UEFA European U21 Championship and also reached the semi-finals two years later, earning a record 46 caps before embarking on a glittering senior career.
Official tournament ambassador for UEFA U21 EURO 2019, due to be held in his native Italy from 16 to 30 June, the 2006 FIFA World Cup winner spoke to UEFA.com about the importance of the competition – and his glory days with the Azzurrini.
You were very successful at U21 level, most notably winning the European title in 2000. How important was that experience for you?
It was very important because it was my first big adventure with the national team. When you join up with the U21s as a boy, it's a dream that you've had since playing in the youth ranks. When you manage to play for the U21s, you start to realise that you're on track to achieve something big.
In 2000, you scored two goals in the final against the Czech Republic, including a free-kick at the end to win the trophy. What do you remember about that match?
It was very exciting because we managed to win and I scored both the goals which earned us victory. It's great when you win your first major trophy because we were a good group of team-mates who had grown up together since the younger age groups. Winning the European U21 Championship was emotional for all of us. I've still got the photos at home. It was my first trophy and it's always a nice feeling. When you're a lad, there's not so much pressure on you, so you can enjoy it much more.
Your old midfield partner Gennaro Gattuso was also at that tournament. Years later, you went on to win the World Cup together. How important is it to rise through the ranks with the same faces?
Yes, it's important because we knew each other from the U18s. Then we moved forward together for many years. When you know each other from a young age and then manage to play together at a high level like the national team, it's a wonderful thing. It's a friendship that starts off when you're young and continues later, and it's something you keep for the rest of your career.
How much do these tournaments provide in terms of experience?
They're useful because they're high-level tournaments and you're playing against the best players in Europe. A lot of them play in competitions like the Premier League or in Spain, so you're testing yourself against these players, which can only make you develop. My advice to the Italy team is to play football and enjoy yourself; it's the best thing there is. Try to make a good impression because we're Italy and we need to revive our football.
Last question: what does the future hold for Andrea Pirlo?
Watching U21 matches and hoping to lift the trophy along with these lads.