Like most coaches picking up the pieces of somebody else's clutter, Cesare Prandelli had to sift through the remains of a calamitous tournament and work out how to start building fast. Although a clutch of survivors from Italy's 2006 World Cup‑winning side bade their farewells as Prandelli took office, it was his immense good fortune that two of the greatest of their greats remained, to become cornerstones of a new team. Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, with their experience and immeasurable expertise, are twin bedrocks upon which Prandelli's team has been built.
Italy might have come into these Euro 2012 finals with the ugly face of the domestic game again rearing its head, but if Pirlo does not make you appreciate the beauty in Italian football, then nobody will. There is not a midfield in this tournament he would not embellish, and that includes Spain.
When he stepped up to confront Joe Hart during the penalty shootout, it was impossible not to think how cruel the fates would be for him to falter after such a flawless performance. From such a position of high‑octane pressure, he produced a Panenka chip. A sublime moment on the sharpest stage.
Throughout, Pirlo was imperious. If a sign of greatness is the ability to look like you have all the time in the world, then there was no question about his stature in Kiev. The touch of majesty, all delivered with effortless calm, seemed to paralyse English opponents. It was as if there was a force field around him.
He turned 33 last month, and does not think he will make the World Cup in Brazil. Having said that, Prandelli would be mad not to try every trick in the book of persuasion to ensure he continues to bring his magic wand to as many Italian squads as humanly possible.
It is hard to imagine how this Italian team would function without Pirlo, the team's arch-creator and deep thinker. He has spent a decade at the heart of the national team, and there is no obvious apprentice ready to take over from the sorcerer. The effect he has on others is obvious.
Italy were knocked out of the last Euros at this phase by a penalty shootout – Spain the victors then. Then they endured a humiliating World Cup in 2010 when they finished bottom of a qualification group that included New Zealand and Slovakia.
Prandelli has revived them to the extent that Italy looked a class above England in just about every department. The only aspect they lacked was a clinical eye for finishing. In terms of possession and chances, there was not much of a contest. But all that counted for little after 120 minutes when the lottery started.
All eyes were on Mario Balotelli for the first kick. He was smiling again, just as he had been during the opening bars of the national anthem when he looked as if he was waiting for a practical joke to unfold. He walked the walk towards his penalty, which he slammed in with unerring coolness.
The Manchester City livewire had endured his frustrations during the game, certainly as a cluster of chances came his way in the first hour. Italy may not be high scorers, but Balotelli, with only two international goals to his name so far, remains at the forefront. The coach has been firmly in the Balotelli camp since day one in the job. He has been stern when he needed to be, omitting the striker from his squad when he felt indiscipline merited it, and clasped an arm around the shoulder when he felt the kid needed love and protection.
The bottom line is that Italy are not so blessed with options to lead their attack by virtue of their charisma as well as their cutting edge. Prandelli defines Balotelli as his "focal point" in attack. When you have a conductor as glorious as Pirlo in your team, it makes sense to give him something to aim at.
Antonio Cassano and Antonio Diamanti were the other forwards used by Prandelli against England, and it was the latter who sparked the party when he dispatched the winning penalty. It was no less than Italy deserved.
Prandelli has reconstructed this team impressively, but the bigger tests lie in wait. A semi-final against Germany will require more precision up front, and presumably a little more defensive concentration than was needed against England.
In the next few days Pirlo and Buffon will no doubt be telling their team-mates a few tales about beating Germany in the 2006 World Cup semi-final en route to the ultimate footballing prize.