RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Maracana stadium will be a fitting scene for Italy's midfield maestro to hit the century mark.

Andrea Pirlo will make his 100th appearance for his national team when the Azzurri open their Confederations Cup campaign against Mexico on Sunday in Rio's renowned arena.

The stadium has recently been renovated, and no longer has space for crowds approaching 200,000 spectators, but it's the same site where Pele scored his 1,000th career goal, and where Zico scored a stadium-record 333 goals.

While Pirlo's introverted personality contrasts with many of the Brazil greats, his uncanny passing ability has drawn comparisons to Brazilian legends.

And this will be the first official match in the renovated Maracana, after the recent friendly between Brazil and England.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli conspicuously held Pirlo back from a friendly with Haiti earlier this week, even though he put on his other usual starters in the second half, 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 the Italy record, although goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who will gain his 128th cap against Mexico, appears destined to become the record man. Paolo Maldini is next on the all-time list with 126, followed by 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 with Pirlo and Buffon at Juve.

All of the men ahead of Pirlo on the Italy caps list are defenders and goalkeepers 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 its 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.

That's not all.

Pirlo has also won two Champions League titles, two European Super Cups, one Italian Cup and two Italian Super Cups in his club career. His first hardware for Italy was the 2000 under-21 European championship and a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

His biggest title, of course, remains the 2006 World Cup trophy. And then there was his impressive performance at last year's European Championship, highlighted by his cute penalty in the shootout win over England in the quarterfinals.

But Pirlo is still hoping to leave his mark — the century mark — at Maracana.

 

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