England goalkeeper Joe Hart’s attempt to intimidate Andrea Pirlo by shouting and waving his arms was behind the Italian’s decision to hit a brazen chip down the middle of the goal during Italy’s penalty shoot-out victory.
Despite Italy trailing in the Euro 2012 quarter-final shoot-out following Riccardo Montolivo’s miss, Pirlo showed remarkable courage to dink his penalty straight and over the feet of Hart who had lunged to his right.
Explaining his shot, known as a cucchiaio, or spoon in Italian, Pirlo claimed that the imposing figure of Hart, who had been screaming at penalty takers and bouncing up and down on his line, inspired him to place the ball down the middle.
“I saw that the goalkeeper was really fired up and I thought about doing that,” he said.
“It was easier to shoot that way and it put a bit of pressure on the goalkeeper.”
Pirlo’s strike has drawn comparisons with the penalty scored by Czech Antonin Panenka in a Euro 1976 shootout against West Germany. The Italians also found themselves on the receiving end of a similar penalty from French great Zinadene Zidane in the 2006 World Cup final.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli heaped praise on Pirlo who he described as a “star” in the wake of the shoot-out.
Penalties are a lottery but I thought we deserved victory in the end,” said Prandelli.
“When Montolivo missed his penalty I was sad as he was one of the best players tonight. I was watching with my arm around my son and I told him he was lucky he didn’t have to buy a ticket.
“When Andrea Pirlo stepped up I was very calm – he’s a star and knew what he needed to do; and he did it.
“Around 80% of penalty shoot-outs go down to luck. Some players are used to this kind of pressure, some are just calm in these situations – but mainly it’s down to good fortune.”
Even England manager Roy Hodgson spoke of his admiration for Pirlo’s composure.
“The cool, calculated way Pirlo chipped it, that is something you have or you don’t have as a player,” he said.
Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi also heaped praise on Pirlo.
“If I had to choose a lasting image from the game I’d say Pirlo’s penalty,” he said.
“I’d not seen such a crazy shot as that since the days of Totti.”
Former England defender Rio Ferdinand, controversially left out of the national squad for this tournament, took to Twitter to praise Pirlo’s all-round performance and penalty strike.
“On a pure footballing note Pirlo just put on a pure footballing master class + the penalty was too much,” he wrote.