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.
Milan signed Portuguese international Rui Costa from Fiorentina, at that time considered the best trequartista in Serie A and certainly a clear choice ahead of Pirlo.
It was no surprise that Turkish coach Fatih Terim opted for Rui Costa, who he had worked with at Fiorentina, and Pirlo was left to feature only as a back-up player in his first season with the Rossoneri.
In the following pre-season Ancelotti was mixing up his formations in a warm-up match against a regional league team, and for a spell in the low-key game asked Pirlo to play in a deep playmaker role, sitting in front of the defence.
Pirlo had, on occasion, played the role that Italians call the 'regista' under Carlo Mazzone at Brescia, but no-one at Inter or Milan had given serious thought to playing a system that allowed Pirlo to function in that position.
Ancelotti saw something in the game that sparked his curiosity and Pirlo was given a chance to start in the role against Juventus in the annual pre-season 'Trofeo Berlusconi"
He delivered the kind of composed and classy performance for which he is now widely known.
The Milan coach had stumbled across his famous 'Christmas Tree' midfield formation which led to Milan lifting the Italian Cup and Champions League titles in 2003 with Pirlo operating behind Clarence Seedorf and Gennaro Gattuso while Rui Costa played in the number ten role.
The following year Milan won the Serie A title and by 2006 Pirlo was playing the same deep role in Marcello Lippi's Italy team who won the World Cup and was widely considered the best playmaker in the world game.
After his form at Milan began to fade and he was offered just a one-year deal, Pirlo moved to Juventus last season and quickly rediscovered his noted touch and feel for the game as he led the Turin club to the Serie A title.
Ancelotti, now with Paris St Germain, believes that while many are able to appreciate Pirlo's ability to receive the ball from his defence and begin to prompt attacks, what is less evident is the way he understands the game.
"There is always praise for his technique but his character and personality are undervalued," he said recently.
"He is one of the few players that you need to say little or nothing to, he understands everything by himself. For me, he is the strongest central midfielder in the world," he added.
One of the games in which Pirlo proved he is worthy of such praise was in Dortmund in 2006 where he was essential to Italy's extra-time victory over Germany in the World Cup semi-final.
If the Azzurri are to produce a repeat performance against the Germans in Warsaw on Thursday it will require a similar masterclass from the quiet man who so nearly was cast aside.