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Player Watch – Champions League Final – ANDREA PIRLO

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The Champions League seemed a fitting curtain call for such a midfield artist: Andrea Pirlo. One of the greatest midfielders in history, faced Barcelona for what could be the very last time in his career, to battle for glory and clutch the Champions League trophy.

With another midfield maestro, Xavi, starting on the bench for Barcelona, Pirlo was central to Juventus’ plans and central to the game itself. Both Xavi and Pirlo had been pass-masters, had both been similarly influential in the modern era of football, and it was sure to be a saddening moment to see both players exit European football.

Despite physical attributes becoming increasingly important in the game, Pirlo has gracefully dominated the game through the many combinations of perfect passes and impeccable technique.

The Italian had been weighing up a proposition from the Qatar Stars League, and several offers from the MLS. Nothing was set in stone yet, but as the Final got closer, the occasion grew more and more momentous, and seen as Pirlo’s last Juventus game.

Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had described Pirlo as “one of the few footballing geniuses.” With Xavi, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard all moving on from European football, these “genius” footballers appeared to be a ‘dying breed’ in the sport.

On his last visit to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, Andrea Pirlo had lifted the 2006 World Cup with his country. Was he able to lift another trophy, only this time, lift the Champions League trophy with his Juventus side?

The final Juventus game for Pirlo hadn’t started in the best way possible, as Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring for Barcelona, only a few minutes into the game.

Despite being behind, Pirlo didn’t seem to turn up the gears, and although he remained very calm in possession of the ball, he simply wasn’t creating any chances for his side early on, as he had done so frequently in previous games.

His calm and control over the game had to be demonstrated early on, when Arturo Vidal picked up a yellow card, and was close to receiving his marching orders only minutes after the booking. With great control and dominance Pirlo calmed the Chilean down, and got him playing once again.

20 minutes in, Pirlo began to fade into the game, as he strung things together and got hold of the ball, before starting the majority of his side’s counter-attacks.

As half-time drew closer, the known calmness of Andrea Pirlo disappeared, as he grew so frustrated at the referee’s decisions, that he ran right up into the face of the referee and argued about his poor decision-making.

After the half-time break, it was becoming clear that Pirlo was now in control of his emotions and he began to pull the strings for Juventus, in the middle of the park. For their attacks to continue, the surrounding Juve players needed to get Pirlo on the ball more often. It hadn’t been one of Pirlo’s best games so far, but his class was evident in every attack he was involved in.

This need was instantly acted upon, as Morata equalised for the Italian champions, and through Andrea Pirlo orchestrating the momentum, things were swaying in the favour of Juventus.

All of the hard work went down the drain soon after though, when Luis Suarez scored for Barca in the 68th minute. It was at this point that the quality of the departing Italian midfielder began to waver, as his set-pieces and free-kicks didn’t threaten the Barcelona defence or the goalkeeper himself.

As one midfield maestro found himself in a spot of bother, another – Xavi – came on for his final appearance in a Barcelona shirt, to a huge uproar from both fans, as he strode onto the pitch with the captain’s armband.

As the game began to fizzle out, things got even worse for Pirlo and Juventus, as they conceded a 3rd goal, this time through the Brazilian, Neymar. Andrea Pirlo had grown quiet in the latter stages of the game, and with Barcelona now 3-1 up, it was impossible for the Italian side to claw anything back.

It was all over. Pirlo would leave his beloved Juventus with an Italian Cup/League double, but the glorious treble of trophies went to Barcelona’s legend, Xavi.

Pirlo was reduced to tears at the final whistle, as he realised there was no treble on his final season in Europe, but also, he wept due to his pure passion for the sport.

Andrea Pirlo’s wonderful, trophy-filled career was coming to an end, but what a career it had been.

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Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Matt Smith

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