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Remembering when Andrea Pirlo carried Italy at a star-studded European Under-21 Championships

Andrea Pirlo was the star of Italy's victorious European Under-21 Championships in 2000- a tournament which also featured Xavi, Frank Lampard and Mark van Bommel

Heard the one about the time Luke Chadwick and David Dunn played Andrea Pirlo off the park?

Okay, that never happened. But the trio did share the pitch during the Under-21 European Championships in 2000.

One of the finest midfielders to play the modern game tries to tackle Pirlo

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One of the finest midfielders to play the modern game tries to tackle Pirlo

Given Pirlo has won countless domestic honours, two Champions League trophies and a World Cup it would a lie to call that summer the pinnacle of his career.

But the tournament, hosted in the footballing hotbed of Slovakia, marked an important stage in Pirlo’s career, given he’d only won a Serie B up to that point.

So how did events unfold?

Slovakia’s preparations were hampered by a prankster wreaking havoc with the Head and Shoulders

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Slovakia’s preparations were hampered by a prankster wreaking havoc with the Head and Shoulders

Familiar faces

Aside from hosts Slovakia every nation competing had players who would go on to win some of the highest honours available.

Looking at the players who’d go on to win Champions League medals gives a flavour of the talent on show, including Igor Biscan, Milan Baros, Marek Jankulovski, Mark van Bommel, Carles Puyol, Jamie Carragher and Gennaro Gattuso, as well as future World Cup winners Simeone Perrotta, Joan Capdevila and Carlos Marchena.

But the stars of the show could be found in midfield, where Xavi, Frank Lampard and Pirlo were expected to play a leading role for their respective nations.

It would be rude not to mention Lampard’s supporting cast of Lee Hendrie, David Dunn, Seth Johnson and Francis Jeffers who’d all go on to become members of England’s one-cap wonders.

One of the nicest kits to grace the international game

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One of the nicest kits to grace the international game

A twelve year premonition

Pirlo’s Italy took on an England side containing Frank Lampard, Jamie Carragher, Ledley King and Danny Murphy, in the first game of Group B.

Gianni Comandini, a forward coming off the back of winning Serie B with Vicenza, put Italy ahead in the 24th minute.

Then Pirlo took centre stage. He stepped up to beat Nick Weaver from the penalty spot, putting the game to bed and securing Italy the win.

Twelve years later Pirlo would be again be scoring from 12 yards out, panenka’ing past Joe Hart to help Italy knock England out of Euro 2012.

Lampard was so good back in 2000 that he would regularly play with a bouquet of flowers

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Lampard was so good back in 2000 that he would regularly play with a bouquet of flowers

England choke again

England followed up the loss to Italy by smashing Turkey 6-0, setting up a winner takes all clash with Slovakia.

But, as you are by now well aware, England don’t tend to cope very well in crunch tournament games.

Howard Wilkinson’s side crumbled to a 2-0 defeat, with future Middlesbrough striker Szilard Nemeth and Peter Babnic scoring the goals.

The loss meant England missed out on qualifying for the knockout stages at the expense of Slovakia. Italy had no such problem, with Pirlo helping the Azzurri to beat Turkey and top the group.

Italy defender Bruno Cirillo honing the ‘Materazzi’ from a young age

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Italy defender Bruno Cirillo honing the ‘Materazzi’ from a young age

At the double

Italy qualified for the final, where they came up against an unbeaten Czech Republic side.

Pirlo, wearing the no.10 shirt, lined up in midfield, with protection from his long-term bodyguard Gattuso.

Any nerves were settled in the 42nd minute when Pirlo converted a penalty to give Italy the lead. Tomas Dosek equalised, only for Pirlo to score the winner nine minutes from time.

As well as lifting the Championship he’d be named the Golden PLayer and pick up the Golden Boot, although his next domestic honour wouldn’t come until he’d left Inter and joined AC Milan.

Whoever sanctioned that deal is probably still not allowed to show their face in the blue half of Milan.

Pirlo posing with Roberto Baronio who played exactly one game for Italy

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Pirlo posing with Roberto Baronio who played exactly one game for Italy
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