England manager Roy Hodgson took the opportunity to praise Andrea Pirlo ahead of the side’s World Cup opener against Italy on June 14.
Hodgson briefly coached the 35-year-old midfielder during his time at Inter Milan and noted the extremely impressive performance the veteran put in the last time the two teams met in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
‘Andrea I of course know very well. He’s obviously a top, top class player and in the game that we played in Kiev he was superb – obviously man of the match,’ Hodgson said.
The former Fulham manager however also stressed that their opponents have other key players besides Pirlo who England must be wary of when they face off in Manaus on Saturday.
‘It’s quite normal I think that people focus on him but there are a lot of other players in the Italian team that are worthy of attention too,’ he said. ‘As far as we’re concerned, we’re really focusing very much on Italy as a whole and the quality of players they have in the team.
‘We’re not getting hung up on one player because I think [Cesare] Prandelli will tell you his team does not depend entirely on Andrea Pirlo, although I’m sure he thinks he’s as good as I do.’
A standout performer on the 2006 World Cup-winning side, this summer will likely be the star playmaker’s final international bow with Italy, as the team look to make amends for their 2010 tournament which saw them crash out of the group stages.
One of Europe’s most decorated players and a stalwart of Italian football for over a decade, Pirlo’s recently released autobiography revealed that the Serie A legend was on the verge of signing for Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea in 2010, before then-AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi nixed the deal.
Joining Juventus the next summer, the veteran has continued to perform at a world class level despite his increasing years, though some question whether he still has the physical resilience to endure a tough, draining campaign in the South American summer.
Pirlo certainly remains key to Italy’s prospects in Brazil and England fans will be hoping he does not scupper the chances of Hodgson’s side making it out of Group D with another Kiev-like performance on the weekend.