Our World Cups

World Cup 2014: Andrea Pirlo shows England what they're missing

Kyle Picknell
England's class of 2014 were outclassed
England's class of 2014 were outclassed / Briony Painter | 90min

Do you remember, and I don't know why I'm asking because I know you do, you definitely do...do you remember at the very start of England vs Italy at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when Raheem Sterling picked up the ball, scuttled past Gabriel Paletta and unleashed a heat-seeking missile towards the top corner from way out on the right wing?

You do, don't you. Because in every single pub and living room up and down this sordid little country we thought that was a goal. We jumped up off our little seats and spilt our little beers and hugged our little mates for literally just a shot into the side netting.

In the immortal words of Ja Rule on Twitter (RIP), (that's to Twitter, not Ja Rule), (Ja Rule is very much still alive... I think): "I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked, led astray!!!"

I kid you not, that television angle and net-ripple trickery was probably England's best moment at what was an otherwise exclusively terrible World Cup.

Therefore, we will instead be revisiting something we can all enjoy. Something we can all appreciate. Something we all love. Andrea Pirlo.

What's that? He's now being paid truckloads of money to front Qatar's new tourism adverts? Oh, for fu-

Harry Symeou hosts Scott Saunders, Brian Goldfarb, Sean Walsh & Ali Rampling from the 90min editorial team to look back on Brazil ’14 as part of the 'Our World Cups' series. We take a trip down memory lane - join us!

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The beard. The captain's armband. The shaggy, wet hair like a dog in from the rain. The haunted look of a man who had seen spaghetti snapped in half one too many times. Andrea Pirlo at the 2014 World Cup was peak Andrea Pirlo, aesthetically at least.

He could barely run but of course Pirlo had never needed to. He let the ball do the work. Against England, it was embarrassing. A devastating manifesto against huff-and-puff, chests out, Three Lions passion-ball.

Where to start. There was plenty of nonsense that occurred throughout the match, from Phil Jagielka heading an impudent Mario Balotelli chip off the line to Phil Jagielka starting in the first place. Other options in Roy Hodgson's squad to partner Gary Cahill: Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, end of list. Sweet Jesus.

Beyond that, after Sterling's initial wondergoal-that-wasn't, every player seemed as though they were trying to singlehandedly win goal of the tournament, perhaps as a result of all the Jabulani swervers and dippers at South Africa 2010, perhaps as a distinct lack of respect for Salvatore Sirigu and Joe Hart. Even players like Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and Glen Johnson. Glen Johnson! Cutting in on his left foot! On more than one occasion! Lord have mercy on us all.

The volley for Portsmouth was a fluke. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to tell you.

Anyway, one of the few players who managed to get hold of one was Claudio Marchisio, who opened the scoring with a skidding dart into the bottom corner from outside the area. That wasn't even the impressive part; Pirlo's dummy over the ball to create the chance was exquisite. A little look and a step to let the ball run between his legs. That's all it was but his midfield partner at Juventus had no choice but to score afterwards.

Rumour has it that to this day Daniel Sturridge is attempting to close down the Pirlo banger that never came.

Sturridge, though, had his revenge at the other end, diverting a sumptuous left-footed cross from Wayne Rooney into the Italian net. Sure, he hit them with 'the Sturridge' afterwards, which was quite frankly a national embarrassment bordering on war crime at a tournament like the World Cup, but we'll let him off. It was a good goal.

To ruin any suspense: Mario Balotelli puts Italy 2-1 in front with a header and they hold on to win. Several other players try and score from ambitious distances. Players like Balotelli himself, Antonio Candreva and Matteo Darmian. Matteo Darmian! Cutting in on his left foot! Lord have mercy on us all.

Basically, the whole contest is a mess. It's chaos. It's James Acaster's flapjacks on Bake Off. Giorgio Chiellini is playing at left-back. Ross Barkley comes on. No, wait. Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere AND Adam Lallana all come on for England. You get the idea.

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Within it all, however, is one silent totem of calm. The weary lighthouse keeper ushering boats to the harbour. That explains why his hair's wet. A man with clarity of thought amid the noise. A man willing to watch everyone else fail endlessly to control their shots with the Brazuca then step up and spank a 35-yard free-kick wobbler off England's crossbar anyway.

Joe Hart was stranded on the opposite side of the goal.

Afterwards, Hart verbally assaulted a ball-boy so he could take his goal-kick quickly. Pirlo just trotted back into position, tucked his hair behind his ear and rolled his eyes.

He was untouchable. Just waddling back to pick up the ball in front of the Italy back four, taking a touch and dinking it forward over the England press to whichever player he wanted, over and over and over again.

There's oozing class and pulling strings and then there's whatever Pirlo was doing that night. Sweating class and yanking strings? Who knows. But it was something like that.

Italy had 75% possession in the game. Pirlo made more passes on his own than England's entire midfield. He was 35 years old. Again: we were bringing on Barkley, Wilshere and Lallana.

If nothing else, that's what I'll take from the 2014 World Cup. Jealousy. Pure, unbridled envy. Watching Andrea Pirlo take England to school and wishing along with just about everybody else he had a white shirt on instead of a blue one.

Did I mention his beard?