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World Cup Qualifying Preview: Italy - Bulgaria

Kick Off: Wednesday, September 9, 20:50 CET
Stadio Olimpico, Turin

Crucial Tie For Italy

The world champions have flattered to deceive in Group 8 so far, but have traditionally struggled in qualifying, as noted by coach Marcello Lippi earlier this week. Italy are a point clear of the Republic of Ireland at the top of the qualifying group, but have home advantage in their game in hand on Wednesday.

Last October, la Nazionale played out a goalless draw with Bulgaria, then coached by Plamen Markov, when both teams were happy to play for the point from the outset. The situation will be different this time, however, as Italy’s automatic qualification for the World Cup will almost be assured with a victory on Wednesday night.

However, only two strikers have scored for Italy in this campaign so far: Giampaolo Pazzini against Montenegro and Vincenzo Iaquinta against Giovanni Trapattoni’s Ireland. The Azzurri have also scored fewer goals (11) than any other side currently sitting in first place in the European qualification zone.

Lippi is not short of options up front, with Alberto Gilardino desperate to take to the pitch again after Iaquinta and Giuseppe Rossi were preferred against Georgia. Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella are also available to play in a wider position, but are unlikely to start.

Bulgaria Still With Slim Chance

Bulgaria's weekend win against Montenegro was much less comfortable than the 4-1 scoreline suggests, as Dimitar Berbatov and Valeri Domovchiyski scored the final two goals inside the last ten minutes.

While the performance may have been unconvincing, Bulgaria still picked up three points to move within touching distance of Ireland. Five points separate the two sides, although the Boys in Green have played a game more and they also play Italy before the qualification phase is over.

Bulgaria have frequently matched their opponents in Group 8, drawing five of their seven games, but have generally failed to take the next step and close out a win. That is their objective that they must try and meet in Turin tomorrow as they cannot rely on the Ireland dropping points against Italy and Montenegro.

Stanimir Stoilov’s team have moved back into the world’s top 20, according to the official FIFA rankings, currently sitting in 19th place, but to really demonstrate their quality they must be among the 32 that converge on South Africa next summer.


FORM GUIDE

Italy

September 5 v Georgia (A) – WON 2-0 (World Cup qualifier)

August 12 v Switzerland (A) – DREW 0-0 (Friendly)

June 21 v Brazil (H) – LOST 3-0 (Confederations Cup)

June 18 v Egypt (A) - LOST 1-0 (Confederations Cup)

June 15 v USA (A) – WON 3-1 (Confederations Cup)

Bulgaria

September 5 v Montenegro (H) – WON 4-1 (World Cup qualifier)

August 12 v Latvia (H) – WON 1-0 (Friendly)

June 6 v Republic of Ireland (H) – DREW 1-1 (World Cup qualifier)

April 1 v Cyprus (H) – WON 2-0 (World Cup qualifier)

March 28 v Republic of Ireland (A) – DREW 1-1 (World Cup qualifier)

TEAM NEWS

Italy

Lippi is expected to make a number of changes from the side that beat Georgia last weekend, and has been experimenting with both a four-man and three-man midfield in training this week. Daniele De Rossi returns from suspension, Claudio Marchisio should be able to shake off a knock, while the coach has hinted that Fabio Grosso will take Domenico Criscito’s place at left-back. Changes are also expected up front because of Rossi’s ineffective performance in Tbilisi.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Buffon; Zambrotta, Chiellini, Cannavaro, Grosso; Pepe, Marchisio, De Rossi, Camoranesi; Gilardino, Iaquinta

Bulgaria

Zhivko Milanov should return to the heart of the Bulgarian defence after he served his suspension last weekend, but Aleksander Tunchev remains on the road to recovery after his cruciate ligament injury. Young striker Domovchiyski staked his claim for a starting spot alongside Berbatov with his first goal for the national side against Montenegro.

Probable Starting XI (4-4-2): Ivankov; Kishishev, Milanov, Kotev, Manolev; Angelov, Yankov, S. Petrov, M. Petrov; Berbatov, Rangelov


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Daniele De Rossi (Italy)

The 26-year-old will return to the Azzurri line-up to provide some midfield steel and dynamism, and his more withdrawn role will allow the likes Marchisio to push further forward to support the strikers. De Rossi will aim to dictate the play from the middle of the pitch but will also hope to showcase his talent for long-range efforts again after such strikes as against USA and Juventus.

Dimitar Berbatov (Bulgaria)

The Manchester United man was in superb form for the Bulgarians against Montenegro, scoring one from the penalty spot and providing the assists for the other three goals. Whether it was bursting forward on the counterattack or threading through balls to his team-mates, the 28-year-old was involved in all of his team’s key moves. Berbatov has previously spoken of his desire to do more for his team – now he must act upon his words against the Azzurri.


PREDICTION

Neither side has really hit top form in Group 8 so far, but they must do so soon with Ireland breathing down Italy’s necks and Bulgaria struggling to keep pace with the Boys in Green. Berbatov has only found the net once in the qualifiers and could well be shackled by Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini. With the pressure on both sides, the world champions should come up trumps.

Italy 1-0 Bulgaria


Anthony Wright, Goal.com