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WC Qualification Europe
September 6, 2013
• Stadio Renzo Barbera, Palermo
Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo
• Attendance: 28662
A. Gilardino 38'
That's it folks, bye for now.
Late scare for the Italians, but ultimately a comfortable win for them. They provisionally extend their lead atop Group B to seven points, and can clinch a World Cup berth with a win over Czech Republic on Tuesday. Bulgaria are still in with a shout for second place, but will need to up their game in the matches that remain after largely falling flat today.
90' + 5'
VERY NEARLY AT THE DEATH! Bonucci cannot make proper contact with his head to a last desperate heave into the box, and Rangelov connects at the far post, only to plant his header into the side netting as the final whistle sounds!
90' + 4'
Headed away as the keeper sprints back towards goal. Their next cross into the box is way over-hit.
90' + 3'
A corner for the visitors grazes and Italy head and goes across for another corner, as Mihaylov comes up for it!
90' + 2'
Bulgaria pumping the ball forward, but Italy are ready now, and get bodies in the way. Looks like they've just run out of time.
Into the first of four minutes of added time.
Some neat interplay from Italy, with Pirlo at the heat, nearly gets De Rossi on the overlap down the left, but he can't bring it under control in time.
Giaccheini wins a corner, a welcome outcome for the hosts, who will milk the clock with this as long as possible.
Yellow Card Emanuele Giaccherini
Giaccherini makes a good run down the left but has his cross cut out. Not long after, he goes lunging into Nedelev near the touchline and gets a yellow card, the first booking of the game.
Time for the visitors to throw caution for the win and do everything in their power to rescue a point. Italy right now will take this with both hands, and are doing what they can to slow the game down.
Bulgaria cause problems yet again for the Italians with another corner, that is just about cleared by Chiellini, in the face of pressure.
Very humid night here in Sicily, as the players take advantage of a break in play to get a drink of water and a quick word from their manager.
Pirlo has noticeably dropped his intensity as the game has wore on, he's finding it harder and harder to release the ball in a timely manner.
A terrible mess defensively from Bulgaria, as a backpass to Mihaylov is woefully short, and spilled by the keeper who could not handle the ball. Gilardino is onto is and squeeze the ball goalwards, but Bodurov reads the game superbly well to slide the ball away from danger.
Matters have slowed down a bit, particularly from Bulgaria's point of view. Their momentum is fading as Italy get a bit of a grip on the game again.
Pirlo goes for goal from a 30 yard free kick and Mihaylov acrobatically, yet comfortably, palms the ball away from danger.
Substitute Giaccherini advances Italy forward for the first time in what seems like ages, sprinting down the left, but botching his cutback completely.
NEDELEV! The winger is growing in confidence exponentially, cutting past his marker, and bending a low 18-yard shot just the wrong side of the post.
Buffon is on fire at the moment, stretching expertly to his left to palm away a sprawling drive from Nedelev!
Buffon with another clutch save at his near post, this time to keep out a header from a corner! Again, that one was inches from crossing the line!
Insigne needs a bit of treatment after taking a hard knock, it looks like he'll be alright though.
Italy have gone completely flat, and are allowing the Bulgarians to hold possession with impunity in their own half. Perhaps a sub to freshen up matters is imminent?
Candreva with a powerful blast from 25 yards out that...fails to trouble Mihaylov. You'd expect better from a man with his range.
Bulgaria though are showing more purpose in this second half, leading the fans to whistle at their team to hustle for the ball again.
Italy just trying to slow the game down after that scare in front of their goal.
Shades of David Seaman against Sheffield United back in 2003 with that save, as Italy are back on the attack. Candreva tries to pick out De Rossi in the box, but Ivanov gets his head in the way.
INCREDIBLE, MAGNIFICENT SAVE! My word, the Italy keeper has just pulled off a stop for the highlight reel. Nedelev volleys a ball right across the face of goal, and Popov is unmarked for the tap in, but out of nowhere, Buffon reacts to claw the ball just before it crosses the goalline!
Motta with a lovely ball into space which Gilardino runs onto, but his end finish is rather scooped right into Mihaylov's arms.
Here we go again!
Relatively comfortable first half for Italy, who are well on their way to victory. Gilardino came up with the goods just before the break from a Candreva cross, and in truth, Bulgaria have shown precious little to suggest they are candidates to get back into this match.
45' + 1'
And that's the last meaningful action of the half, the ref signals for the interval.
Pirlo clips in a free kick to he completely unmarked De Rossi at the far post, but it sails agonizingly over his leap. Bulgaria having a quick pow wow to discover just why the Roma skipper was left all on his own in such a dangerous area.
Should Italy win today and against the Czech Republic in four days, it will be the first time that they have qualified for a major international tournament with at least two games to spare. They usually take it down to the wire, those Italians.
Insigle nearly puts the second on a plate with a flashing run down the left, and a cross with Mihaylov dos just enough to palm away from the waiting Gilardino.
Assist Antonio Candreva
Goal Alberto Gilardino
Italy take the lead through Gilardino! Simple in the end, Candreva clips beautifully into the six yard box, and the striker leaps above his marker and the keeper to head in his 19th international goal!
Swing and a miss from Motta after the resulting corner.
Pirlo curling in a dangerous ball which catches Minev in two minds, and he panics, booting it out for a corner, despite no Italy player within five feet of him.
Popov and Nedelev combine well in the middle, and the latter very nearly releases Tonev with a ball over the top, but Chiellini extends well to head clear.
A Pirlo free kick is glanced into a dangerous area right inside the box, but no blue shirt is able to make contact.
Insigne releases the ball just in time to slip in Motta, who just manages to cut it back before it escapes over the byeline, but he cannot pick out a teammate, and Mihaylov gathers.
Insigne with an ambitious effort from the left corner of the box, which may have just been heading off target. Mihaylov didn't know that though, and parries the ball at his near post, conceding a corner which is promptly wasted.
Gilardino, not for the first time, is presented with a half-chance to shoot, but it comes out with all the purpose of stale ketchup, and dribbles off target.
Largely tepid game, evidenced by the Mexican wave making the rounds across the stands. Both teams have a lot to gain for pushing for a win, however, Italy can put one foot in the World Cup finals, while Bulgaria can cut the gap at the top of Group B to just one point.
Two boneheaded plays by Tonev in quick succession; first hacking a clearance from an Italy corner right back into danger, then when his defence bails him out and releases him on the counter, overrunning the ball into De Rossi.
Excellent work from Popov to play in Tonev, who catches the ball skipping off the turf and releases a stinging drive towards goal that almost catches Buffon by surprise! The keeper blocks, and is left alone to pick up the scraps!
Pirlo lines up an attempt from outside the area, but it's always rising, and never tests the keeper.
Bulgaria suffering from a chronic lack of creativity, as despite pinging the ball around tidily for the last two minutes, fail to carve out any meaningful opening.
A Bulgaria free kick is rather wasted as, with all their defenders in the box, the delivery is floated right to Bonucci, who smashes it clear immediately.
Gilardino going to ground rather theatrically after a challenge from the rear by Bodurov, but the ref is having none of it. Pure physical contact if you ask me, completely right to wave play on.
Bulgaria beginning to show some real hustle, and have resolved to not let Italy get comfortable on the ball in deeper areas. Motta in particular looks uncomfortable with this new-found attention.
Thiago Motta unforgivably gives the ball up to Nedelev in the Italy half, and the winger takes the opportunity to level at Buffon's goal, but no dice. Harmlessly over in the end.
Manolev trying to make progress down the right hand side, but he is confronted by a determined Chiellini, who goes down to the turf to win the ball back, eventually baiting the Bulgarian into committing the foul. Italy get the ball back.
Pirlo guides a rapier-like ball over the top for Insigne, who busts a gut trying to keep up, bu just cannot bring the pass under control.
Popov fouled by Motta near the halfway line to put a halt to a brief Bulgaria foray. Freekick for the visitors.
A solid beginning for the hosts, with Candreva and Insigne roaming around Gilardino with some intent.
Right away, Insigne puts Gilardino through, but his snap shot is well saved by Mihaylov. Bright start.
Bump. Here we go boys and girls.
The anthems have been sung, and we're about to get underway.
Bulgaria are still in with a shout to make the World Cup, as third place Czech Republic were defeated 2-1 at home to Armenia earlier in the day. A win here would put them within one point of first place, but it's a tall order indeed against this increasingly resourceful Italy side.
With four games left to go, including tonight's clash, Italy are four points ahead of Bulgaria for the lead in Group B. Three of those matches take place at home for the Azzurri, so no prizes for having a punt on Italy to make the finals in Brazil when all is said and done.
AC Milan trio Balotelli, El Shaarawy and Montolivo all miss out, but the Azzurri should still be favourites here with the capable Gilardino and the exciting Insigne doing the heavy lifting up front.
Bulgaria: Mihaylov; Minev, Bodurov, Ivanov, V. Minev; Ilev, Gadzhev, Manolev, Dyakov, Popov; Tonev.
Italy: Buffon; Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, Antonelli; Pirlo, De Rossi, Thiago Motta; Candreva, Insigne; Gilardino.
Let's take a look at the starting lineups for tonight's clash.
Greetings, and welcome to the World Cup Qualifier between Italy and Bulgaria. I'm Keeghann Sinanan, and I'll be bringing you the play by play.
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