Italy v Bulgaria – Preview: Azzurri look to make big step towards Euro qualification
Italy welcome Bulgaria next Sunday to the Stadio Renzo Barbara for their second meeting in the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifiers.
The Azzurri now top Group H, following a narrow 1-0 win over Malta. Former leaders Croatia on the other hand could only draw their tie against Azerbaijan 0-0, allowing Antonio Conte and his players to swoop in and seize the top spot.
Bulgaria are fourth in the table, with a disappointing defeat to Norway at the Vasil Levski National Stadium at the forefront of their minds. A single goal from Vegard Forren was enough to condemn Bulgaria to defeat in Sofia, their third of the tournament.
Head coach Ivaylo Petev and his men haven’t had much luck at their national stadium, not winning a single game on their home turf. Indeed, the last meeting between these two sides was at this very ground, where the Azzurri escaped with a 2-2 draw thanks to a late goal from Eder.
Southampton striker Graziano Pelle scored the only goal against Malta, putting him among the top scorers so far in qualification alongside Antonio Candreva and Giorgio Chiellini. Ivelin Popov and Iliyan Vitsanski have both scored twice for their country thus far.
The win against Malta continues the wonderful record Italy have in qualifying matches; an undefeated run that stretched back to the previous century. However, many of the Azzurri matches have left much to be desired, even recently with just a single goal against Malta making the difference. In fact, Italy had previously drawn their last three matches until the win against Malta.
Stefano Sturaro will not feature for the visiting side due to suspension, while Claudio Marchisio is also a doubt.
Palermo midfielder Ivaylo Chochev makes the Bulgaria squad, and will find himself on familiar soil at the home ground of his current club. Valeri Bojinov is not part of the Bulgaria squad, the striker had long been associated with Italian football but now finds himself at FK Partizan.
Italy now have the chance to cement their place at the top of the group, with Croatia travelling to face difficult opposition in Norway.
Form Guide (competitive fixtures): Italy (W-W-D-D-D-W) Bulgaria (L-L-D-D-W-L)
Expected Starting XIs
Italy: Buffon; Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pasqual; Verratti, Pirlo, Bertolacci; Gabbiadini, Pelle, Eder.
Bulgaria: Mitrev; Bandalovski, Aleksandrov, Bodurov, Minez; Dyakov, Chochevl; Manolev, Popov, Milanov; Mitsanski.