Nick Westby: Peerless Pirlo has remained the game’s great dictator

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It took all of three minutes to get over England’s defeat to Italy last Sunday night. When there is a footballing genius on the pitch of the ilk of Andrea Pirlo, subjectivity soon gets cast aside.

England were so clearly second best that this is the last time they will be mentioned in this column. For EuroVision today is about the saluting of that footballing maestro, peerless Pirlo.

The 33-year-old ran the quarter-final from start to finish, as he has done so often in his 87 caps for the Azzuri.

For a decade now he has run that midfield, playing a bit part in their collapse in Korea-Japan and then orchestrating their triumph amid the controversy of a match-fixing scandal back home four years later in Germany.

It was at the 2006 World Cup that people really started to sit up and take note of a man so in control of his game that he could play at his own speed and bring everyone around him to that pace.

He has won every honour an Italian footballer can win, and even after a spell in which his career looked in decline, when Milan dispensed with his services and Juventus picked him up on the cheap, Pirlo has shown once again that he is one of the true gems of world football.

Ageing like a full-blooded red, is it any surprise that he comes from the Lombardy wine region of Italy?

Emboldened by a near flawless title-winning season with Juventus, Pirlo has blossomed again at a Euro 2012 tournament in which, for large parts, teams have played with the shackles off.

As is typical of European Championships in the 16-team era, it has been blessed with good games, flowing moves, fine goals and very few moments of controversy.

Of the players, Andres Iniesta has been his usual, brilliant self, but Pirlo has the edge because he has elevated a poorer supporting cast around him.

Pirlo is at peace with his game, a fact summed up in last Sunday’s shoot-out when he executed a delightful ‘Panenka’ penalty in homage to the Czech who helped his minnows shock West Germany in the 1976 final.

What chutzpah from Pirlo.

“It was easier for me to chip it at that stage,” he said modestly.

Of the many words that have been written about this embodiment of the perfect midfielder, the best came from the former Poland great Zbigniew Boniek, who mused: “To pass the ball to Andrea Pirlo is to hide it in a safe.”

Tonight might be a game too far for Pirlo and his Calcio kinsmen.

Germany had two days extra rest after a relatively effortless swatting aside of Greece in their quarter-final, while Italy were somehow pushed to 120 minutes and a penalty shoot-out by a band of determined, if limited, brothers.

Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller and Mezut Ozil are the new breed of European midfielder; full of running and brio.

But do not bet against the old master Pirlo slowing them down and dictating tonight’s semi-final at his pace.