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September 7, 2012
• Stadion Vasil Levski, Sofia
Referee: M. Atkinson
• Attendance: 12993
S. Manolev 30'
G. Milanov 66'
P. Osvaldo 36', 40'
Thanks for joining us here on Goal.com. Tom Woods over and out.
There's the final whistle. In the end, Bulgaria earn a deserved point from what was a spirited, creative display against the Euro 2012 runners up. Lots of chances spurned at either end, but I don't think either side will have too many complaints about the final score. 2-2 it finishes.
90' + 1'
Bonucci goes long and wins a header looking for Destro, but his aim is off and the ball is gathered by Mihaylov. Looking more and more like a draw here in Sofia...
Diamanti tries something outrageous from 35 yards out the near touchline, but it drops harmlessly over the bar. There will be three minutes added on here.
Yellow Card Svetoslav Dyakov
Good save Mihaylov! The FC Twente keeper spreads himself well to keep out Osvaldo, who had stolen an inch inside the box. Almost an unlikely winner for the Italians.
The ball is pinged back into the box and almost hits Manolev in the face. But fortunately for Italy, it whistles just over the top.
Yellow Card Alessandro Diamanti
Bonucci concedes a corner. Bulgaria have another chance...
Diamanti earns another Italy booking for a cynical foul as Bulgaria look to break forward. It's backs to the wall for Italy in these final five minutes...
Georgi Milanov goes for goal... but it bounces well wide of Buffon's post. Bulgaria definitely sense a winner here...
Bulgaria make their final change. Ivelin Popov earns a great reception from the home faithful as he makes his way from the field. Aleksandar Tonev of Lech Poznan replaces him.
Italy sweep the ball forward, but Peluso has strayed offside. Not happening for the visitors here, who are struggling with their one-man disadvantage.
Bulgaria make a change, with Vladimir Gadzhev making way for Georgi Sarmov, who plays his domestic football in Turkey for Kasimpasa. Into the final ten minutes...
Here's a problem for Italy. De Rossi has picked up a knock and is unable to continue. The Azzurri have made all of their changes, and will have to play out the rest of this game with ten men.
Italy are really on the ropes. Popov and Manolev are causing havoc in the Italy defence, firing cross after cross into the box that is barely being cleared ten metres. What have the Azzurri got left in the tank? Anything?
Yellow Card Ivelin Popov
Diamanti gets a sniff of a chance for Italy, but is quickly smothered by goalkeeper Mihaylov. It's all a bit breathless all of a sudden.
In all the commotion, I should tell you that Destro has indeed come on for Italy, replacing Giovinco.
MANOLEV! Another great break from Mitsanski, and he releases the no.2 inside the box. His shot is sweetly struck, but Buffon makes a great one-handed save. Italy so nearly behind.
Free header! Iliyan Mitsanski has had a great introduction here, and should have put his side in front. He wins a free header from Gadzhev's corner, but it's miles over the bar.
Christian Maggio concedes a corner....
Mattia Destro is about to be introduced. Italy need a spark, and soon.
It's very well poised here, with Bulgaria forcing Italy back into their own half. Anyone's game to win at the moment.
Cesare Prandelli makes an instant response here, with Atalanta's Federico Peluso replacing Ogbonna. Italy have it all to do again.
Assist Iliyan Mitsanski
Goal Georgi Milanov
GOOOALL BULGARIA! Lovely finish from Georgi Milanov. The pull-back is supplied by substitute Mitsanski, and the Litex Lovech player shapes his body expertly to steer the ball beyond Buffon. The stadium is rocking now...
Yellow Card Angelo Ogbonna
Here he comes. Emanuele Giaccherini is withdrawn by Cesare Prandelli, and on comes Alessandro Diamanti. Time for fun, people.
Ogbonna clatters into the back of Manolev, and earns the second booking of the evening.
Bulgaria make their first change, with Gargorov being replaced by Kaiserslautern's Iliyan Mitsanski
How did that not go in? Manolev again supplies the danger, and Buffon gets down quick to push the ball away from Gargorov. It all seems to happen in slow motion though, and the Bulgaria man would have had an empty net if he'd reacted quicker.
Andrea Pirlo has dropped deep into midfield, but attempting long balls to Sebastian Giovinco perhaps isn't the best strategy. He really is the shortest footballer you could wish to see. Adorable in a way.
Bulgaria are allowing their opponents to have the ball, perhaps waiting for their moment to spring an all-important break. The home crowd is beginning to find its voice again....
Nice move from Bulgaria, and after a series of passes the shot comes in from Milanov from the far corner of the box. It's deflected just wide, and Italy clear the corner. Italy are by no means comfortable yet...
Good strong defending from Ogbonna, who stands up to Manolev before nicking the ball away. He's looked good going forward too, the Torino man. Everything you could want from a modern centre-back.
Italy have regained a lot of composure on the ball, and are forcing Bulgaria into a series of cheap fouls. The latest sees Dyakov trip Giaccherini.
That is a great cross from Svetoslav Dyakov, whipped in from the left-wing. It's just beyond Manolev, otherwise Bulgaria would be level.
Bonucci makes a sliding challenge on Manolev, the Bulgarian player goes down, and Martin Atkinson gives a free-kick to Italy. Not sure I quite understand that one.
Giovinco goes close again. Giaccherini's cross-field ball runs straight through to the diminutive forward, but Mihaylov makes a smart stop from his fierce strike. Italy have started much brighter in this second half, and could already be out of sight.
From Pirlo's corner, Leonardo Bonucci takes a blow to the head and will need treatment. Play is temporarily halted here.
Almost an instant chance for Italy. Giovinco looks to have bustled his way through on goal, but can't quite hold on to the ball. Sometimes, he is just too small.
And Italy get us back underway...
Here come the teams....
They may have the lead, but Cesare Prandelli will want to see more creativity from his side in the second half. One possible solution, Alessandro Diamanti, is warming up on the pitch here...
Jeeze. I'm just watching Osvaldo's second again. The ball trickles over the line at barely a snail's pace. If you're on the receiving end of that sort of goal, you can rightly feel sick to your stomach.
Yup, indeed it is. Three goals at the Vasil Levski stadium, none of them pretty. Bulgaria have done more than enough to lead the game here, but find themselves behind to perhaps the flukiest brace you will ever see. Pablo Osvaldo has been presented with two gifts to open his international account, and despite being second best for long stretches, Italy have the lead. Plenty of time for that to change in the second half, of course. Don't go anywhere...
45' + 2'
Popov looks for Gargorov with a through-ball. Straight out of play. That'll be half-time I think.
Nearly a hat-trick for Osvaldo, but his first-time shot at the end of a flowing move is pushed behind by Mihaylov. 3-1 would definitely not reflect the game we've had so far.
Manolev sends in a great cross but it's just headed away by Barzagli with Gargorov lurking. Bulgaria finishing the half strongly.
Popov again! This time a deep cross is headed out by Maggio, straight into the no.9's path, but he can't direct his volley on target. It's rip-roaring entertainment all of a sudden.
Close! Ivelin Popov almost notches a spectacular equaliser with a 30-yard volley on the turn. Just over Buffon's crossbar.
Assist Emanuele Giaccherini
Goal D. Osvaldo
GOOOALL ITALY! Osvaldo again, and this is even more ugly than the first. Giaccherini pings in a cross, Osvaldo dives and makes contact with his shoulder, it hits Ivanov and squirms agonisingly beyond Nikolay Mihaylov into the net. Italy, all of a sudden, are ahead.
This scoreline is harsh on Bulgaria, but Italy showed their clinical edge there. One chance, one goal. Sometimes it takes a stroke of luck like that to change the tide of a match...
Assist Claudio Marchisio
Goal D. Osvaldo
GOOALL ITALY! First international goal for Pablo Osvaldo! It's such a scrappy one, but he won't care a jot. Another long ball, Bulgaria don't deal with it, and the Roma striker is on hand to tuck the loose ball into the far corner. Italy are out of jail, all of a sudden.
...the ball is headed out to Georgi Milanov, but the Litex Lovech man can't get his shot away as he is blocked out by a swarm of Italy defenders.
Italy aren't settling here. Far too much aimless passing going on, as demonstrated by Marchisio's aimless overhead kick when options were available. Bulgaria, on the other hand, have another corner...
Very poor goal to concede, from Italy's point of view. What response from the Azzurri? They have a free-kick from the near touchline, but an attacking head can't get a touch.
Yellow Card Daniele De Rossi
Assist Emil Gargorov
Goal Stanislav Manolev
GOOOALLL BULGARIA! Italy will be looking at their goalkeeper here. Stanislav Manolev lets fly from 30 yards, and it bounces in front of Buffon, but it should never beat the keeper from there. It does, and it's 1-0 Bulgaria. Just about deserved too.
...punched clear to Buffon. He got two strong hands to that.
...Vladimir Gadzhev's kick is headed out to Svetoslav Dyakov, who sees his shot blocked by Pirlo. Corner...
Leonardo pushes Gargorov in the back and Bulgaria have another dangerous free-kick...
...which comes to nothing. Angelo Ogbonna attempts to keep the move alive, but is called for a foul after barging Manolev off the ball.
Giaccherini receives Marchisio's ball out wide and sends a teasing cross to the back post. Headed away by Veselin Minev for a corner...
Close! The free-kick comes all the way through, perhaps taking a nick off Ivan Ivanov, and Buffon has to make a flying save to push it behind! The Italian defence went to sleep there.
Daniele De Rossi has had a quiet game so far, and has just been dispossessed by Emil Gargorov. He then retaliates by kicking his man off the ball, and Bulgaria have a free-kick. Silly...
Giovinco spins away from a tackle and attempts a neat through ball to Osvaldo...which is promptly missed by the Roma man. The front two haven't clicked yet, in any way shape or form.
Dear me Bonucci. The Juve man dallies far too long on the ball, and Popov looks to have stolen it to run through on goal. The defender is so fortunate that the whistle goes for a foul. I didn't see anything wrong with that at all.
Gadzhev tries his luck from way out, and his skidding shot has to be well smothered by Buffon. Not particularly close, but the nearest we've come to a breakthrough.
Yellow Card Vladimir Gadzhev
Blimey. The unmistakable sound of a firecracker exploding into life has just erupted through the ground. Brought an almighty cheer from the home faithful, that.
Vladimir Gadzhev earns the first booking of the night, for a foul on Giaccherini. No arguing with that one, he took his man clean out.
Manolev is making some useful runs down that right side, and he is close to keeping in a long pass from Minev there. He looks a good outlet, the PSV man.
It's by no means a full house in the stadium tonight, but those who are here are making a terrific noise. Bulgaria are providing most of the entertainment, stringing some neat passes across that five-man midfield and attempting some intricate through-balls. Lovely stuff.
Yordan Minev is now down injured, after a clash with Giaccherini. The defender is hobbling to the sidelines with play back underway.
Chance for Bulgaria. Emil Gargorov goes on the overlap, and the cross can't be converted as not a single white shirt got into the penalty area. There's plenty of attacking intent being shown by the hosts. Just little end product.
Seconds after Osvaldo heads over for Italy, Bulgaria come streaming down the other end and Ivelin Popov has hit shot blocked. Good end-to-end stuff so far.
Bulgaria have started brightly here. PSV's Stanislav Manolev chases a long ball down the right, but it's just a touch overhit and Italy escape. But they are on the back foot just at the moment.
Ivanov is down at the moment receiving treatment... no wait, he's back up. As you were.
As we enjoy the opening exchanges, keep those tweets coming to me via @woodstome. All predictions welcome. Even the crazy ones.
Atkinson blows his whistle, and we're underway.
The teams are on their way out. Time for the Azzurri to begin another faultless qualification campaign? Rio awaits, and it all starts right here. The referee tonight is England’s very own Martin Atkinson.
On the face of it, this looks a bit of a non-contest, with the European runners up against a side with absolutely no players from any of the continent’s major leagues. Unless you count the Eredivisie. No, me neither. But at these early stages of the season, and with precious qualification points to play for, I am personally ruling nothing out.
ITALY (3-5-2): Buffon; Bonucci, Barzagli, Ogbonna; Maggio, Pirlo, De Rossi, Marchisio, Giaccherini; Giovinco, Osvaldo
BULGARIA (4-5-1): Mihaylov; Yordan Minev, Veselin Minev, Ivanov, Manolev; Bodurov, Dyakov, Milanov, Gadzhev, Gargorov; Popov
For Italy, Cesare Prandelli reverts back to the 3-5-2 formation that was used to good effect in the opening game of Euro 2012, and then dropped for the later stages of the tournament. As in that game against Spain, Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini will provide the width, with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings from deep. In the absence of Mario Balotelli, Roma’s Pablo Osvaldo gets a rare chance to impress upfront, where he will be partnered by Sebastian Giovinco.
Bulgaria coach Lyuboslav Penev has picked a squad featuring four players from all-conquering domestic team Ludogorets Razgrad, who completed a Bulgarian league and cup double last year. Three of that quartet, namely midfielders Emil Gargorov, Svetoslav Dyakov and defender Yordan Minev, make the starting XI here. Dangermen? We shall see. Captain Ivelin Popov plays the lone role in attack.
Time for some TEAM NEWS. Here are your lineups for tonight’s game.
The hosts have recently climbed to 89th in the FIFA world rankings, but remain a shadow of the wonderful side that reached the semi-finals of USA 94. Having not qualified for a major tournament since 2004, Bulgaria have it all to do here. Can they pull off a shock? I’m currently accepting all predictions and other comments via my Twitter page, @woodstome. Get in touch and I’ll use as many of your comments as possible.
Amid the excitement of the Olympics, it’s easy to forget the thrills of Euro 2012, surely one of the best European Championships in recent memory. In reaching the final, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy reminded the world that you write them off at your peril, even when the odds are against them. Having qualified for that tournament with an unbeaten record, the Azzurri will be looking to repeat the feat all over again, but have a potentially tricky set of opponents including Denmark and Czech Republic to overcome. Tonight, therefore, is a good opportunity to signal their intent.
It’s round one of the group stage games, and every team across the continent will harbour dreams of making it all the way to Rio. Well, almost every team. But few will hold as many genuine hopes as tonight’s visitors, particularly after the summer they’ve had.
Welcome to Goal.com. You join us at the Vasil Levski stadium, in the heart of Sofia, for tonight’s World Cup 2014 qualifier between Bulgaria and Italy. I’m Tom Woods (@woodstome) and I’ll be bringing you all the action as it unfolds.
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