Andrea Pirlo profile

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Graceful, intelligent and classy, gifted 26-year-old Andrea Pirlo is one of the best midfielders in Serie A, and is a lynchpin in both the Milan and Italy midfields.

The playmaker is expected to play a key role in any Azzurri success at the 2006 World Cup finals.

"Pirlo is a fantastic player - he knows how to play the ball and he even tracks back and helps his team-mates"
Johan Cruyff

Pirlo began his career at Brescia as a youngster, making his debut two days after his 16th birthday. He was central to the club returning to Serie A after relegation the previous season.

His form at Brescia earned him a dream move to Internazionale, where he found first team opportunities limited. In his second season, he was loaned to Reggina, where he again hit form.

While he struggled to hold down a place in Inter's side, his international career was starting to blossom, scoring two goals in the final of the European Under-21 Championship, securing the win for the Italian youngsters.

In 2000/2001, he was loaned back to Brescia, before Inter's city rivals Milan took his services to the San Siro, and September 2002 saw his full international debut against Azerbaijan.

In 2003, Milan secured a glorious double, winning the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League, a season in which Pirlo played a key role, floating in front of the formidable defence and carving out openings for his forwards.

Pirlo was then a pivotal figure as Milan took the 2004 Serie A title with ease.

At Euro 2004, Pirlo was a straight replacement for the suspended Francesco Totti, starting two games, but the Azzurri were eliminated at the earliest stage, despite not losing any fixtures.

An injury-hit season for Pirlo followed, which also saw Milan's league form stutter, but their qualities in Europe saw them progress to the Champions League final, where the midfielder had a penalty saved by Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek, and saw Milan lose in an amazing turnaround, after leading 3-0 at half time.

The 2005/2006 campaign saw Milan beaten in the semi-finals of the Champions League, with Pirlo making 11 appearances, and scoring one goal in the European adventure in the run-up to the World Cup.

Pirlo's playmaking vision, clever passing and trademark free kicks have made him a regular in Marcello Lippi's starting XI, and, if Italy are to progress through the group stages, Pirlo's form is crucial.