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Pirlo the perfect pivot

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July 10, 2006 04:23 IST

From creating opportunities in set-pieces to the penalty shoot-out, Andrea Pirlo led Italy's fortunes in the World Cup final against France on Sunday.

One of the finest distributors of the ball in Serie A, Pirlo possesses superb vision and control, and is deadly in spot-kicks. He was kept on the fringes by former coach Giovanni Trapattoni, but emerged at the heart of Marcello Lippi's midfield.

Pirlo was the main creative force in the Italy Under-21 side that won the European championship in 2000, but was rarely given a chance at Inter Milan. After loan spells with Reggina and the club that launched his career, Brescia, he surprisingly moved to AC Milan. Coach Carlo Ancelotti moved him into a deeper role in front of the defence and the switch transformed his career.

On Sunday, in the final, the 27-year-old player the pivot's role to perfection. From a corner, he set up Italy's equaliser and then took the all-important first kick in the penalty shoot-out. Italy, known for their tie-breaker jinx, showed no nerves as they struck home the perfect five to lift the World Cup.

Having conceding a seventh-minute penalty, Marco Materazzi outjumped Vieira to bury his header from a Pirlo corner.

The equaliser in the 19th minute was just reward for a positive first-half performance from Italy, where Gennaro Gattuso and Pirlo controlled the game from central midfield.

It was the first time both teams had scored in the final in 20 years and Italy went close to getting their second in the 36th minute when Pirlo curled in another tempting corner which striker Luca Toni headed against the bar.

The teams were level at 1-1 after extra-time, which saw Zinedine Zidane's career come to a sad end as he was shown a red-card for a head butt into Materazzi.

Having lost all three of their previous shootouts, including against France in the 1998 quarter-finals and Brazil in the 1994 final, Italy must have feared worst.

But Pirlo set the tone with his cool finish. He took a short run-up and lifted the ball down the middle, with Fabien Barthez diving right, to score. Materazzi, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Del Piero and Fabio Grosso made the following penalties count to give Italy 5-3 victory in Berlin.

If the Azzurri became the most successful European nation in World Cup with five championships, they owe it to none other than their enterprising midfield genius Andrea Pirlo.

Player of the day

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