Italy vs Uruguay World Cup 2014: Andrea Pirlo fights to hold back time and keep Italy alive

Midfielder’s illustrious international career will be ended by Uruguay defeat today

The game of the week takes place today in Natal, and Andrea Pirlo knows that everything is on the line. If Italy lose to Uruguay their World Cup will be over, just 10 days after their brilliant victory over England. Pirlo’s international career will be over, too, the  35-year-old having promised that this tournament will be his last with the Azzurri before he steps aside.

LIVE: Follow today's games, including England v Costa Rica, Italy v Uruguay and events in Group C

Uruguay must know this all, too. Despite their disastrous defeat to Costa Rica in their first match, a second win today will send them into the last 16. It would be an impressive turnaround, and to complete it they would need to copy the example of the little Latin American country that beat them in their first game.

Costa Rica’s performance against Italy was one of the displays of the tournament. It was not just a typical giant-killing, reliant on lucky bounces and influential details, but a genuine outplaying in all aspects of the game. In the first half Costa Rica tore into Italy and took the lead. In the second half they sat back, dared Italy to pick through them, and saw out the win.

What Costa Rica did, in both halves of the game, was to render Pirlo irrelevant. The Italy midfielder could barely find his rhythm in the first half, pressed by Yeltsin Tejeda and Celso Borges. As Costa Rica dropped deeper, once ahead, he had the ball but could do little with it.

It was almost a sad sight, to witness one of the all-time greats of the game reduced like this, but this is simply what happens in sport. Xavi, arguably an even greater player than Pirlo, was humbled against the Netherlands, dropped against Chile and was injured for yesterday’s game against Australia. He will not play for Spain again, and is leaving Barcelona this summer to play in Qatar.

 

Pirlo and Xavi have spent the last 10 years mastering time and space on the pitch, winning the 2006 and 2010 World Cups respectively, but the clock is catching up with both of them.

Uruguay are one of the fiercest competitors left in the World Cup, and are no respecters of reputation. They will have seen what Costa Rica did to Pirlo and will try to achieve the same today. Edinson Cavani could drop back off the front to hassle Pirlo, as he did Steven Gerrard last Thursday. Cristian Rodriguez, Arevalo Rios and Alvaro Gonzalez are all relentlessly hard workers in midfield.

All England had to do was offer Uruguay two glints of weakness and this fairly  limited team – albeit with two world-class strikers – was able to punish them. Pirlo proved his superiority to England in Manaus but he is not infallible either, as Costa Rica showed in Recife.

The World Cup is where players can build their reputation and lay their claims to greatness, but also where those whose time has passed can be exposed. Xavi, the last few months have made clear, is finished at the top level. Pirlo will desperately want to stay there a while longer.

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