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11th Jun 2018

Andrea Pirlo and the most important three seconds of his career

A defining moment

Simon Lloyd

andrea pirlo

Given the circumstances, nobody would’ve blamed him for just putting his laces through it

With the German defence more concerned with seeing off the danger from Alessandro Del Piero’s corner, Andrea Pirlo found himself in a surprising amount of space as an attempted clearance reached him on the edge of the area.

By this stage, 119 long, scoreless minutes had elapsed in the World Cup semi-final between Italy and Germany, the host nation. Penalties loomed; lactic acid was building in oxygen-starved leg muscles, and a shot at goal just seemed – to everyone else, at least – like the obvious thing for Pirlo to do.

But of course, Pirlo didn’t shoot. Instead, he became architect for one of the most defining goals in World Cup history.

His first touch, with his left foot, made it clear that a shot through a crowded penalty area was not on his mind. Instead, the ball was shifted on to his right foot, opening up the possibility of a pass back out wide to Del Piero. This, though, was not Pirlo’s intention either. Now facing the right touchline, his second touch saw him and the ball glide along the edge of the penalty area. Four German players were now closing in, and the generous amount of space he’d been afforded prior to the corner kick was rapidly being swallowed up. This, though, was all part of his plan.

A fraction of a second before his foot made contact with the ball again, we got our first glimpse of what was to come. In their attempts to pressure the Italian number 21, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Cristoph Metzelder left Fabio Grosso standing in space behind them. With an inviting gap opening between Metzelder and Arne Friedrich, it seemed all that remained was for Pirlo to slide the ball to his unmarked teammate.

On this occasion, he resisted the temptation, instead continuing his path towards the touchline. With a pass to Del Piero briefly seeming more likely, he delayed, allowing for another gap – this time between Metzelder and Schweinsteiger – to widen.

Then, it happened. Schweinsteiger had seen it now, but it was already much, much too late for him or anyone else in Jurgen Klinsmann’s team to intervene. Having waited until the time was precisely right, Pirlo – still looking towards the touchline – rolled the ball no more than eight yards to Grosso, who swept the ball beautifully into the far corner with his left instep.

Although Del Piero would add a second soon after, this was the goal that carried the Azzurri to the 2006 final. Sure, people are right to point to the quality of Grosso’s finish, but the way in which Pirlo picked the lock of the German defence in order to feed him the ball was almost just as lovely.

Yes, he struck more than a few stunning, long-range goals in his time. He’s quite possibly laid on even more aesthetically-pleasing assists, too. But in just three seconds, what Pirlo did in the dying embers of extra-time that night in Dortmund seems to best encapsulate what Pirlo the playmaker was all about.

Not just the pass itself, but the way in which his decision making and intelligence engineered the space in which to execute it; the patience and refusal to release the ball until the exact moment; the hint of show-boating that was evident as he looked one way and slipped the pass the other. And, above all, the fact that all of this was achieved on such a stage and under such enormous pressure.