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The veteran keeper pulled off a number of stunning saves to preserve the Azzurri's 1-0 win over Bulgaria, leaving them just three points away from the World Cup.

Coach Cesare Prandelli acknowledges Italy was indebted to an "extraordinary performance" from Gianluigi Buffon after the keeper's heroics enabled the Azzurri to beat Bulgaria 1-0 on Friday.

Alberto Gilardino’s first-half goal gave Italy the lead in the World Cup qualifier in Palermo, but it had captain Buffon to thank for earning a vital three points as he pulled off several top-class saves as the visitors pressed hard for the equalizer after halftime. 

Italy is now all but assured of reaching Brazil 2014 as the result leaves it seven points clear of Bulgaria at the summit of Group B, but Prandelli knows his side rode its luck at times Friday.

"Gigi saved the result with an extraordinary performance, so it’s nice to suffer and still win," he told RAI Sport. "Bulgaria poured forward towards the end, they gambled it all, so it was predictable we would suffer."

The former Fiorentina boss was forced into making several changes for the game, with Mario Balotelli, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and Riccardo Montolivio all unavailable. And Prandelli felt these alterations were partially responsible for his side’s stuttering performance.

"Unfortunately tonight we had to make three changes due to injuries so it became complicated," he added. "Our fitness levels are not optimal and that makes it all much more difficult."

Italy now needs only one win from its remaining three games to secure its place at next year's finals, and it has an opportunity to do so when it entertains the Czech Republic -- which succumbed to a home defeat to Armenia -- in Turin on Tuesday.

"We’ll try to get as many players as possible back to fitness," Prandelli said. "The Czechs are also gambling their last chips, so I warn you it is not going to be a walk in the park, but we’ll give it our all too. We’re fired up."

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