Pirlo still pulling the strings

Andrea Pirlo was given the rarest of honours during the Confederations Cup last year when the Italy playmaker received a rapturous reception at the Maracana.

The Maracana crowd is notoriously difficult to please, with fans believing that no foreigner could possibly match the long line of Brazilian greats who have graced the hallowed turf, yet Pirlo, a World Cup winner, was granted an exception.

His name was chanted before and during the game against Mexico, which turned out to be his 100th international appearance, and he brought the house down when he scored with a majestic 30-metre free-kick.

At 35, Pirlo is still one of the most influential figures in Italian football and continues to pull the strings for the national team.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, writing a heartfelt introduction to Pirlo's autobiography, I Think Therefore I Play, wrote: "Andrea Pirlo is a player who belongs to everyone. Guys like him should be a protected species... fans look at him and see a universal champion.

"Pirlo brings people together because he IS football... he's the essence of the game. He's recognised as a global talent. The message is that sometimes even normal guys can be truly exceptional."

Never the happiest-looking of characters with his long, droopy face, Pirlo now sports a beard that gives him a striking resemblance to action-film actor Chuck Norris.

There is nothing muscular or physical about Pirlo's game, however. His elegant, unhurried and thoughtful style can put a smile on the face of the purists and his favoured role as a deep-lying playmaker makes him a rarity in modern football. - Reuters.

World Cup