Pirlo gets his kicks for free

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Italian and AC Milan midfielder Andrea Pirlo was once considered a player with huge potential, but lacking the character to apply it on the field.

Pirlo, however, has proved his critics wrong.

"When he is absent, we have to change our system because no one else can play like Pirlo," Adriano Galliani, AC Milan vice-chairman, said recently.

A key player to watch in Italy's charge to the World Cup in Germany next year, Pirlo has dropped back into a deep-lying playmaking role and has become a huge force for both his club side and the Italian national team.

"There's no secret to playing this way," Pirlo told FIFA worldcup.com. "You just have to keep it simple and move the ball around fast to open up gaps.

"Sometimes I still tend to hang on to it a little took long."

Pirlo, who has thrived since joining AC Milan, also is an accomplished free-kick specialist. He has scored 16 of his 55 club goals and all his national team strikes from dead balls, hitting two from set pieces in a World Cup qualifying victory over Scotland at the San Siro on March 26.

"It's a natural gift that I've cultivated since childhood," Pirlo told the FIFA website. "Twice a week, after training, I spend half an hour practising them, trying numerous different ways and continuously correcting myself. I do a lot of work on the position of my body and feet in order to find the right impact on the ball by measuring the striking power according to the distance and the angle.

"It's above all a question of work and analysis. If a free-kick is struck correctly, it's unstoppable. Personally, I always try to get the ball to come down as quickly as possible. I've spent a long time studying Michel Platini on television, and then at Brescia, I used to train with Roberto Baggio."

Lippi seems to be leaning toward dressing Pirlo as a starter in Germany, perhaps at the expense of Alessandro Del Piero.

"I've known for a long time that the class of a player like Pirlo can turn a match," Lippi told FIFA worldcup.com. "I've found an unassuming leader who lets his feet do the talking."

As for representing his country in Germany, as he did when Italy won the European under-21 title, Pirlo can think of no greater honour.

"The Italy shirt is my shirt," he said. "It's like a second skin."


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