The years have clearly not yet taken their toll on Andrea Pirlo, who remains Italy's imperious midfield maestro. As comfortable playing just in front of the defence as he is carrying out more advanced duties, he is completely two-footed, endowed with fantastic vision and an unparalleled passer of the ball. If that were not enough, he is also a remarkable free-kick taker.

It was Carlo Ancelotti who suggested he operate in a more withdrawn role while the duo were at AC Milan in 2002, and Pirlo quickly settled into his new duties alongside midfield comrades Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf. This tactical masterstroke brought I Rossoneri great success, while Pirlo – dubbed "a Zico in front of the defence" by former Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira – became practically irreplaceable. In the space of nine years at Milan, the Italy stalwart secured two UEFA Champions League titles, a FIFA Club World Cup, a pair of Serie A crowns, two UEFA Super Cups and an Italian Cup

Pirlo made his Nazionale debut at the age of 23 in 2002, but he had to wait two more years until the second fixture of UEFA EURO 2004 before establishing himself as a starter. Nicknamed Trilli Campanellino (Tinkerbell) or l'architetto (the Architect) by his team-mates, he then enjoyed his greatest triumph at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, where he was voted Man of the Match in the duels with Ghana, hosts Germany and Final opponents France.

Two years later, he contested three group games at EURO 2008, while injury kept his involvement in Italy's 2010 World Cup debacle to a minimum. Soon after taking the reins, Cesare Prandelli made Pirlo his vice-captain behind Gianluigi Buffon, and the midfielder paid him back by performing superbly at EURO 2012, picking up three further Man of the Match awards in six outings. Pirlo then celebrated another landmark achievement by collecting his 100th cap during the FIFA Confederations Cup on 16 June last year.