Italy

.

v/s

Bulgaria

Stadio Renzo Barbera, Palermo, Sicily

7th September 2015; 1845 GMT

***

Italy host Bulgaria for their Euro 2016 qualifying match at the Stadio Renzo Barbero in Palermo. Italy are currently top of Group H of Euro 2016 Qaulifying, while Bulgaria sit at 4th in the group table. The Italian national team is level on points with Croatia -who will probably have some points deducted as a result of the infamous Swastika incident which took place in June, when they hosted Italy. Bulgaria find themselves five points behind third placed Norway and would be looking to reduce this shortage if they are to keep their hopes for a Euro berth alive.

The reverse fixture, which was held in March, finished on level terms as Brazilian born striker Eder rescued a point for the Azzurri, scoring on his debut in the closing stages of the match.

Before the unconvincing win over Malta on Thursday, Antonio Conte’s side had drawn their last three qualifiers and have been struggling to score enough goals to win these matches.

Bulgaria on the other hand lost their last match against Norway at home and have only won two matches in the Qualifying stage so far.

Team News and Tactics

Italy

The Azzurri are expected to line up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Gianluigi Buffon set to earn his 150th cap – an Italian record. The veteran goalkeeper has been part of the Italian national side for 18 years.

Antonio Conte is without the services of Andrea Bertolacci, who left the squad to fly back to Milan to undergo further tests on an injury he picked up in the match against Malta. There are some concerns if midfield orchestrator Andrea Pirlo would be fit for the match. If available he is bound to be one of the first names on the team-sheet.

After a rather abysmal performance by Eder and Manolo Gabbiadini against Malta, the duo is set to be replaced by Lorenzo Insigne and Antonio Candreva. Candreva brought some urgency into the Italian attack after coming on as a substitute against Malta and it was his cross that was nodded in by Graziano Pelle for the winner. Pelle is expected to lead the line for the Azzurri.

If Pirlo is not available, his Juventus teammate Claudio Marchisio could be seen slotting in alongside Marco Verratti and Daniele De Rossi in the center of the park. The resilient center defensive pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini is expected to retain their starting berth. Matteo Darmian and Domenico Criscito are expected to flank the central defenders.

Expected Line-up (4-3-3) – Buffon, Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, Criscito; Verratti, De Rossi, Marchisio; Candreva, Pelle, Insigne.

Italy vs Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Ivaylo Petev would be looking to line-up his men in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, with Iliyan Mitsanski expected to lead the line for Bulgaria. Spartak Moscow midfielder Ivelin Popov will be slotting in the hole behind the striker. Stanislav Manolev and Georgi Milanov are expected to flank the striker.

Bozhidar Mitrev is likely to retain his place in between the sticks with Nikolay Mihaylov still not 100% fit after missing the last game due to a stomach bug. Partizan Belgrade forward Valeri Bojinov will miss the clash due to an injury.

Fulham defender Nikolay Bodurov set to partner Ludogorets’ Aleksandar Aleksandrov in the heart of defence. Yordan Minev and Ivan Bandalovski could be seen flanking the central defensive pairing.

Palermo midfielder Ivaylo Chochev could be seen partnering Svetoslav Atanasov Dyakov in the middle of the park. The Lions would be looking to cause an upset and get all the three points so as to keep their dream of only their third Euro qualification alive.

Expected Line-up (4-2-3-1) – Mitrev, Bandalovski, Aleksandrov, Bodurov, Minev; Dyakov, Chochev, Popov; Manolev, Mitsanski, Milanov

Key Facts:

  • Italy last won against Bulgaria in the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, when Alberto Gilardino scored the only goal of the game.
  • Bulgaria last recorded victory over the Azzurri in a friendly in 1991, when the Lions won 2-1.
  • Out of the 18 matches contested between the two sides, Italy have won nine of them. Bulgaria have won only on two occasions while seven of the matches have ended in a draw.

Player to watch out for:

Antonio Candreva (Italy)

Napoli-Lazio

The Lazio winger is expected to start the game against Bulgaria on the back of an impressive performance against Malta. The 28-year-old provided the assist for Graziano Pelle’s winner on Thursday and Antonio Conte would be counting on his direct running to cause problems to the Bulgarian back line. The former Juventus winger has only two international goals to his name and he will be looking to add to this tally against the relatively inexperienced defenders of Bulgaria.

Prediction

Italy 2 – 1 Bulgaria

The Azzurri would be looking to maintain their position at the top of Group H and capitalize on any slip-ups by Croatia. The Italians had to work hard to earn a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture but would be looking to comfortably beat the Lions this time around. Antonio Conte’s men have struggled to hit top form so far in the tournament and the Italian would be hoping his side click with only three qualifiers left.

Blast from the Past