RIO DE JANEIRO // The Maracana will be a fitting scene for Italy's midfield maestro to hit the century mark.
Andrea Pirlo will make his 100th appearance for the Azzurri when Italy open their Confederations Cup campaign against Mexico on Sunday night in Rio's renowned arena.
The stadium has recently been renovated, and no longer has space for crowds approaching 200,000, but it is the same site where Pele scored his 1,000th career goal, and where Zico scored a stadium-record 333 goals.
This will be the first official match in the renovated Maracana, after the recent friendly between Brazil and England.
Cesare Prandelli, the Italy coach, conspicuously held Pirlo back from a friendly with Haiti earlier this week, no doubt with the Maracana mark in mind.
Few players have had such special century marks, although Fabio Cannavaro's feat of hitting 100 when Italy beat France on penalties to win the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin is tough to beat. Cannavaro was also Italy's captain and crowned his achievement by raising the World Cup.
Cannavaro went on to make 136 appearances, which stands as a national record, although goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will gain his 128th cap against Mexico, appears destined to surpass that mark. Paolo Maldini is next on the all-time list with 126, followed by Dino Zoff with 112.
Pirlo is set to break a tie for fifth on the list with Gianluca Zambrotta, whose international career ended at 99 appearances.
"Andrea is a reference point for us. He and Buffon always give us that added bit of quality," said Italy winger Emanuele Giaccherini, who also plays at Juventus.
But Pirlo will not make an assault on Cannavaro's record as he has already announced he will retire from the national team after next year's World Cup in Brazil.
Still, at 34, the Juventus midfielder sets the tone with his precise passing. He also shows impressive durability.
Pirlo played in 45 matches this season in all competitions for Juventus, 42 of them from start to finish, and scored five goals while helping the Turin club secure a second consecutive Serie A title.
Personally, it was his third consecutive Italian title, and fourth overall, having won Serie A in 2003/04 and 2010/11 with AC Milan before the Rossoneri decided not to renew his contract.
He now hopes he can leave his mark – the century mark – at Maracana.
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