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Dirty Tackle

Bearded Andrea Pirlo comes to terms with another loss to Spain

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Xavi tears out the grass by its roots and shouting accusations of betrayal at it in a language that can no longer be recognized as Spanish. Despite the heat and smothering humidity, his jagged hair still stands on end, greasy like the face of a teenager who's running a marathon while massaging himself with a hamburger.

He's dragged back to dressing room before he can pluck the whole pitch and there he sees a television for the first since arriving in Brazil. "Look," he says. "They're rioting in the streets because Spain have been violated! Even Brazilians will not tolerate the injustice of us losing." Though he isn't in the room, Bearded Andrea Pirlo laughs at this. He laughs so deep that the scene disappears, swapped for the realization that Xavi outrage — which came so close being poured out — was held back by smug satisfaction.

Awake. Bearded Pirlo opens his eyes to let in the anonymous luxury of his Brazilian hotel room. Its expensive amenities make him long for the bare cement of his fortified bunker high in the Alps, only decorated with the sweat-stained shirts of his defeated and beardless enemies, the droppings of his loyal friend and confidant — a goat called Davide — and a picture of Spain's Euro 2012 celebration. He wants to leave, but there is still a third-place match left to play. An exercise not dissimilar to donating kidneys to someone who already has two healthy ones.

The memory of the Leonardo Bonucci missed penalty that he hoped was a nightmare arrives like putrified room service. The stabbing embarrassment of losing 4-0 to Spain a year earlier has been momentarily replaced with the sour taste of losing because of one ball escaping over the crossbar after repeatedly ringing the doorbell on the Spaniard's castle and running away over the previous two hours. Davide would have just one response to this unforgivable failure to vanquish Spain and it would smell worse than Daniele De Rossi using sulfur to put out a trash fire.

To keep his hands from locking up as tightly balled fists, Bearded Pirlo fashions a 16GB iPod out of a piece of wood he found at the beach days earlier. It only plays the sounds of anguish coursing through his head. Eventually that music becomes softer and softer. Thoughts of Bonucci's miss go the way of that dream about Xavi. Bearded Pirlo can only see Davide's face, chewing on something no human could ever eat and refusing to blink. Defiant. Everything becomes clear.

Beating Spain in the semifinals of the dinky, protest-consumed Confederations Cup would not have quenched the simmering desire for revenge. The picture of their 2012 celebration would remain on Bearded Pirlo's wall, mocking him with its superiority. No, this was not the place to settle old scores. It was only a chance to make that desire more intense. So that when the proper time for retribution arrives, it will bring absolute euphoria that only the World Cup or some kind of mountaintop death match against a pack of wildcats can afford.

And so, for now, Bearded Pirlo listens intently to "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus on his wooden iPod. Still as a tombstone, but sullenly dancing in his mind.

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