Surprise runners-up in Poland and Ukraine, Cesare Prandelli's men will be hoping to maintain their momentum when they take their first step on the road to Brazil in Sofia
Manolev, Bodurov, Ivanov, V. Minev
Tonev, Milanov, Gadzhev, Sarmov
Bonucci, Barzagli, Ogbonna
Maggio, De Rossi, Marchisio, Giaccherini
Daniele De Rossi will be fit for Italy’s opening World Cup 2014 qualifier against Bulgaria on Friday evening.
The Roma ace has recovered from the ankle injury which forced him off just 31 minutes into his club’s 3-1 victory over Inter at San Siro on Sunday and is expected to take his place in a three-man midfield alongside Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio.
Mario Balotelli, of course, has been ruled out after undergoing eye surgery, but Giampaolo Pazzini and Angelo Ogbonna are available for selection after overcoming their respective knee problems.
The former, though, is expected to start on the bench, with Azzurri boss Cesare Prandelli set to start with Sebastian Giovinco up front alongside Pablo Osvaldo, who did not even make the preliminary squad for Euro 2012.
However, Torino defender Ogbonna is likely to start alongside Juventus duo Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci in defence, with Cristian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini occupying the wing-back berths as Italy revert to 3-5-2.
As for Bulgaria, Dimitar Berbatov has decided against coming out of international retirement for his country’s qualifying campaign, meaning national team boss Lubo Penev must decide between Ivelin Popov and Iliyan Mitsanski, who netted the only goal of the game in last month’s friendly win over Cyprus, for the lone striking role.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Italy remain sixth in the latest Fifa rankings, but Bulgaria have climbed to 89th.
- Roma striker Pablo Osvaldo, who has made two previous appearances for the Azzurri, was born in Buenos Aires.
- Cesare Prandelli's men used 3-5-2 in their opening two games at Euro 2012, against Spain and Croatia, but they switched to 4-3-1-2 for the remainder of the tournament.
- Italy wing-back Emanuele Giaccherini has yet to feature for Juventus in Serie A this season.
- The Azzurri did not lose a single game during their Euro 2012 qualification campaign, sealing qualification with two rounds to spare.
- The recalled Giampaolo Pazzini, who hit a hat-trick for AC Milan against Bologna last weekend, scored the goal which secured Italy their place in Poland and Ukraine, the former Inter man netting the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Slovenia.
- Bulgaria have not qualified for a major international tournament since Euro 2004 in Portugal, where they bowed out in the group stages, losing 2-1 to Italy in their final game.
- The two nations also met during their 2010 World Cup qualifiers, with Bulgaria managing to hold the Azzurri to a scoreless draw in Sofia only to then suffer a 2-0 defeat in Turin.