On Tuesday the 4th of November 2014, Champions League fans would have witnessed another football legend reach another landmark as classy Italian midfielder Pirlo made his 100th appearance in the Champions League.
Andrea Pirlo stepped out with his Juventus teammates in a crucial Champions League group game against Greek side Olympiakos.
It did begin well for Juventus and Pirlo as he managed to net an impressive free-kick after just 21 minutes to give his side the lead. This lead didn’t last long though as Olympiakos responded three minutes later with a goal from Botia and they then managed to take the lead through N’Dinga just after the hour mark.
Juventus and Pirlo didn’t put their heads down in disappointment though as they forced an own goal from Olympiakos player Roberto on the 65th minute and Pogba managed to give Juventus the lead just a minute later as Juventus and Pirlo rescued all three points.
This was a dramatic group stage tie as a crazy few minutes just after the hour mark decided the outcome of the game but this is nothing new to midfielder Pirlo as he has experienced plenty of drama during his 100 appearances in Champions League football.
Andrea Pirlo began his career at local side Brescia before being snapped up by Inter Milan at quite a young age but he never managed to break into the first team at Inter and was moved on to AC Milan in July 2001 for a big €18 million fee.
Pirlo enjoyed a wonderful career at AC Milan before moving on to another Italian side Juventus on a free transfer in May 2011. It was at AC Milan where Pirlo developed into one of the best deep-lying playmakers in the game and a set-piece specialist. It was also at AC Milan that he enjoyed great success in the Champions League as he played in three finals and lifted two trophies.
The 2003 Champions League campaign was one of the most enjoyable for Pirlo as he experienced what is was like to be in a successful team in Europe for the first time in his career. AC Milan faced many tough sides on their way to the final such as the likes of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lokomotiv Moscow, Ajax and then bitter rivals Inter Milan in the semi-finals.
AC Milan faced another Italian side in the final as Pirlo played against his future club Juventus in a final that lacked action and excitement at Old Trafford. The final finished 0-0 in normal and extra-time, which meant a penalty shoot-out which AC Milan narrowly won but Pirlo enjoyed lifting his first ever Champions League trophy.
AC Milan managed to reach another Champions League final just two years later as they claimed victory over competition such as Barcelona, Shakhtar Donetsk and Celtic in the group stage and then they defeated Manchester United, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven in the knockout stages before reaching the final in Istanbul.
Pirlo and AC Milan were drawn against Liverpool in a final which they started off on the right foot as Pirlo whipped in a free kick, which Paolo Maldini volleyed home just 50 seconds int0 the game. It didn’t take long for AC Milan to score again as two Hernan Crespo goals put AC Milan 3-0 up before half time.
Pirlo and his team mates felt the pressure come off them as they thought they had the final won and they would just have to turn up in the second half and see the game out but it wasn’t to be for AC Milan as their complacency resulted in one of the greatest comebacks in football history.
Liverpool made it 3-1 with a Gerrard header in the 54th minute which seemed to be a consolation goal for the Reds until Vladimir Smicer netted a long range shot two minutes later and all of a sudden Liverpool were back from the dead. Liverpool were awarded a penalty on the 60th minute and Xabi Alonso slotted home the rebound as Dida managed to save the initial spot kick.
Even though AC Milan seemed to create more chances than Liverpool, they couldn’t find a way past Dudek and the game went into a penalty shoot-out. Pirlo witnessed his team-mate Serginho blast his spot kick over the bar before Pirlo himself stepped up and had a weak attempt on goal saved by Dudek.
Liverpool emerged victorious when Shevchenko had his spot kick saved by Dudek and Pirlo was left gobsmacked and heartbroken as he later said,
“I thought about quitting after Istanbul, nothing made sense anymore.”
It didn’t take long for AC Milan and Pirlo to put things right as they faced Liverpool in the Champions League final again in 2007 in Athens. AC Milan had another tough run in the competition as they had to get past AEK Athens, Anderlecht, Lille, Celtic, Bayern Munich and Manchester United before reaching the final.
AC Milan were determined not to make the same mistakes against Liverpool as they did in 2005. They managed to control most of the game and it was Pirlo who stepped up to have the first say in which way the game would go as he took a free-kick just before half-time which was deflected into the Liverpool net by teammate Inzaghi.
AC Milan then took a 2-0 lead in the second half through Kaka but a late Dirk Kuyt goal gave Milan a scare, however they managed to see out the game and Pirlo lifted a second Champions League trophy with his AC Milan teammates.
AC Milan haven’t reached a final since 2007 as they have dipped in form in recent years due to many of their star players retiring or moving on but Pirlo had one last major impact in the Champions League for AC Milan when he struck a long range shot into the Real Madrid net in a 3-2 win over the Spanish giants in the 2009/10 season.
Pirlo continued to play in the Champions League when he moved on to Juventus in 2011 and he played all 10 games for Juventus in the competition in the 2012/13 campaign until they were knocked out by eventual winners Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
Pirlo has began this Champions League campaign as an influential player for Juventus and if they manage to make an impact on this year’s competition he will have a major say in their efforts as Pirlo seems to be like a good Italian wine; he seems to get better with age.
Sarah Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Joern Fehrmann [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons