MANGARATIBA, Brazil (AP) — Brazilian fans like to consider Italy's midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo as one of their own.
For a generation now, Pirlo has displayed the kind of creativity, vision and passing skills normally associated with players on the Selecao.
Perhaps it's no wonder then that Pirlo's inspiration for one of his best skills — free kicks — comes from a Brazilian.
When the talented midfielder Juninho played for French club Lyon from 2001-09, Pirlo used to study his dead ball kicks down to the most minimal details. And Pirlo dedicated an entire chapter in his recently published autobiography "Penso quindi gioco" — "I think therefore I play" — to his study of Juninho.
So it couldn't have been better timing then when Juninho paid a visit to Pirlo at Italy's training base Wednesday — three days before the Azzurri face England.
"It was really neat. He talked about my book and came to thank me," Pirlo said. "I think he was just as excited to meet me as I was to meet him."
Pirlo has scored from 25 free kicks in his Serie A career, two short of the record held by former Sampdoria and Lazio fullback Sinisa Mihajlovic. Pirlo should have no problem breaking the record, considering that Juventus announced Wednesday that it had extended his contract for another two years, meaning Pirlo will play until he's 37.
"I've got two or three years to go so hopefully I'll pass him," Pirlo said of Mihajlovic.
But Juninho scored a French-record 44 free-kick goals with Lyon.
So who is better?
"I think on shorter kicks Pirlo is better. But maybe from greater distances I was," Juninho said after exchanging shirts with Pirlo. "But Pirlo has won everything his career, and his results tell everything. He's one of the most complete midfielders of his generation."
Pirlo was one the architects of Italy's 2006 World Cup title, helped AC Milan to two Champions League trophies and has won the last three Serie A championships with Juventus.
At last year's Confederations Cup, Pirlo was a fan favorite, earning a standing ovation when he exited at Rio de Janeiro's famed Maracana stadium.
"It was very emotional, the first time I come to Brazil, to play in Maracana and receive an ovation like that was really special and something I'll never forget," he said Wednesday.
"I'm also a bit Brazilian, (call me) Pirlinho," Pirlo wrote in his book. "When I attempt free kicks I think in Portuguese. Then I celebrate in Italian. ... I studied (Juninho). I gathered CDs, DVDs, and even old photos from his matches and eventually I understood. It wasn't an immediate discovery. It took patience and constant dedication."