DONETSK - Andrea Pirlo's midfield mastery played a major role in Italy's win over England in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals with the 33-year-old showing the qualities that have made him one of the continent's finest for the past decade.
But Pirlo, whose cool chip in the 4-2 penalty shootout win following a goalless draw after extra time on Sunday will remain the most memorable incident of the night, is also a reminder of the 'sliding doors' that exist in a football career.
Had it not been for a pre-season experiment by then Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti, Pirlo could well have become one of the many players who never made the step up from promising youngster to established international.
After leaving his hometown club Brescia, where he made his debut at 16 years and two days old, Pirlo failed to become a regular starter for Inter Milan in the role assigned to him since youth - the ‘trequartista', creating behind the strikers.
The young Pirlo had many of the attributes which are still evident in his game today - a deft touch, ability to shield the ball from an opponent and the vision to pick out the right man for a pass.
But what was missing from his game was above all the pace and dynamism required for turning midfield play into goal-threatening attacks and so he spent his time at Inter either on the bench or on loan.
For a brief moment, when AC Milan signed him in the summer of 2001 from their city rivals, it looked as though he might finally get his chance to show his worth with a big club but, within days, the door closed on him again.