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Conte defends under-fire Pirlo

Italy head coach Antonio Conte has dismissed criticism of Andrea Pirlo, saying the veteran midfielder deserves more respect.

The 36-year-old was left out of his country's 1-0 victory over Bulgaria on Sunday after a below-par performance in Thursday's win of the same scoreline against Malta.

Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta recently added to the storm surrounding Pirlo by stating "every player should know when to hang up his boots" but Conte has insisted the New York City star should be treated better.

"What really disappoints me is the lack of respect from some towards an immense player," the former Juventus boss told Sky Italia.

"He deserves more respect in every way. Pirlo cannot be considered irreplaceable one day and the next ready for the scrap heap."

Gianluigi Buffon won his 150th cap in Italy's latest triumph and was similarly defensive of his former team-mate after the match.

"Marotta was making a general point," the goalkeeping great told Mediaset. "I don't think it's time yet for Andrea to hang up his boots.

"When the games really count and the ball becomes like a hot potato, someone like him will make us comfortable. Someone like him always does."

Pirlo has 116 caps for Italy, who currently sit top of Group H in Euro 2016 qualification with five wins and three draws from their eight matches to date.

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