Italy playmaker Andrea Pirlo chips in with attack on 'conservative' England side
Italy midfielder claims Hodgson's 'careful' and negative team was playing for penalties
There is a great story that the Italian press tell about Andrea Pirlo's grandfather, from Sinti – a Romani population – moving to the country for the first time from eastern Europe and presenting himself at the local town hall to register as a citizen.
In an act of mockery, and because grandfather Pirlo could not speak Italian well, a local official told him that his name would be "Pirlo" because the word is close to "pirla", roughly equivalent to "dickhead" in modern Italian. It was a cruel trick to play but the name, which is unusual to Italian ears, remained. Two generations on, however, the joke is not on the Pirlos anymore. The joke yesterday at Italy's Casa Azzurri HQ here in Krakow was on the English.
The Italians have moved on from their victory on penalties against England on Sunday night towards tomorrow's semi-final against Germany in Warsaw. Yesterday, however, on the occasions that the discussion returned to the game in Kiev, Pirlo was unsparing when it came to England's performance. He thought that Roy Hodgson's team played without imagination or ambition and got what they deserved.
Pirlo appears considerably older than his 33 years and is, to look at, a strange mix of Alan Rickman and Javier Bardem. He has been around long enough that he does not worry too much about who he upsets and his analysis of England was not one from the school of diplomacy.
"England played in a very conservative and careful way," Pirlo said. "They were sitting back for all the match like Chelsea did in the Champions League final. They tried to keep that same shape. As far as they were concerned, getting as far as the penalty shoot-out was already a good result for them.
"There have been many games in the past when I've had as much possession as against England. In football it happens. The difference is against Germany I expect [Mesut] Ozil to be a great threat in and around the areas where I am playing, while on Sunday, [Wayne] Rooney stayed further up the field. Ozil will play in the same areas, although he will not necessarily do a man-marking job on me.
"We have to take advantage of our quality and our technique. This is the only way we can win the semi-final. Unlike England, Germany pose many threats to our defence."
The outrageously cheeky penalty that Pirlo chipped past Joe Hart with his team trailing in the shoot-out is known in Italian as a cucchiaio and according to the Italian reporters in Krakow yesterday, the midfielder mastered the art as a teenager at Brescia's academy. Pirlo, as he had done after the game, did not try to dismiss the significance of the way in which he scored.
"It was really relevant to the match and our win. This changed the course of the game. In my opinion, Hart seemed to be very confident in himself and, scoring against him this way, it did seem to be a psychological blow. I needed to do something to beat him. Penalties are a very personal thing.
"When you have to shoot a penalty you have to be confident in yourself. I didn't say anything special to my team-mates. We have the same character and determination as Juventus. We are united as a group."
In an Italy team that has struggled for goals at times, Pirlo has become the star. Yesterday, a member of the Italian media said that his naturally non-communicative nature suggested that perhaps he was a bit mad and that might be some kind of explanation for why he took such a risky penalty.
"Look it was not folly. It was not madness," Pirlo said. "I felt like doing that thing at that moment in time. I don't think I was mad when I hit this penalty. I just had this moment of inspiration before I took it."
Pirlo has been around for years. He won the World Cup in 2006 as well as three Serie A titles, including last season's with Juventus, and two Champions League titles but he is currently the man of the moment at Euro 2012. Not bad for a player who was given a free transfer by Milan last summer when his request for a new three-year deal was turned down.
It is true that the space that England gave him on Sunday contributed to the strength of his performance. The Germans will not be so generous. There was even talk yesterday of Pirlo winning the Ballon d'Or, which he dismissed out of hand on the basis that "Ronaldo and Messi score 60-70 goals a season, one of those two will win it every time."
Nevertheless, this is some encore for Pirlo to a brilliant career and he is determined to finish in style. "We have watched all the Germany games," he said yesterday. "They are a great team. They always go all the way to the end. But we started training today and we know how to beat them. We know they are difficult team to beat. But we know we can do it."
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