Andrea Pirlo’s Panenka penalty had underlining meaning

By IndepthAfrica
In Euro 2012
Jun 25th, 2012
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Andrea Pirlo has revealed he chipped his penalty in Italy’s shootout win over England to put pressure on Roy Hodgson’s side.

The Azzurri dominated their Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev but after 120 minutes and no goals, England were handed an early advantage when Riccardo Montolivio sent his penalty wide.

With England leading 2-1, Pirlo, by far the oustanding player of the night, stepped up and as Joe Hart dived to his right, clipped his spot-kick down the middle – ala Antonin Panenka in the 1976 European Championships final.

Such was the daring of the 33-year-old, the tension was lifted within the Italy squad and put the pressure back on the English with Ashley Young and then Ashley Cole both missing.

The Juventus star 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 and in fact Ashley Young.

“I didn’t fear an upset, as England barely created anything, just tried to defend the result and drag us to penalties. We stayed in control and in the end won out.

“We knew that we could control the match, as England are a very defensive team. It’s just a shame we took this long to beat them and used up a lot of energy. We dominated the encounter and it’s a pity we didn’t take our chances. At least the penalties sent the right team through.”

Pirlo is a vital cog in coach Cesare Prandelli’s system, which sees Antonio Cassano dropping deep from a forward position and the midfielders breaking from deep, trying to get behind the defence.

But that is made possible mostly by Pirlo’s unerring accuracy with the boot. The conductor of the Italy team, he sets the tempo, dictates what happens around him and provides the fulcrum from which everything else pivots.

In the first half he picked out Mario Balotelli with a raking through ball and the striker should have done better. Another delightful chip over the top freed Cassano behind Cole and his header back into the danger zone looked set to be buried by Balotelli until Joleon Lescott’s desperate intervention.

Such was Pirlo’s influence that England ended up covering him with their strikers rather than the overworked midfield, meaning the forwards dropped too deep and failed to provide much of an outlet once England won the ball back.

Italy’s ‘architect’ in numbers

- Pirlo completed 115 passes of his 131 attempted

- 155 total touches – 90 more than England’s highest (Ashley Cole)

- 6 interceptions – more than any other player on the pitch

- 23 accurate long balls, the next highest was Joe Hart with 17

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