Euro 2012 runners-up Italy arrive to Bulgaria looking for a flying start to the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, and the Azzurri are rightly considered favourites here. Luboslav Penev’s side have been largely struggling of late and their own fans have lost the faith in the national team.
Where are the goals going to come from?
Bulgarian football and especially the national team have been on the constant downtrend over the last decade and nobody can remember the last time the national team were competitive during a qualifying campaign. Over the last few years, individual quality of star players Dimitar Berbatov, Stiliyan Petrov and Martin Petrov would sometimes help the team get a decent result, but given that none of the three players are now in the squad, the hosts clearly don’t have much to hope for before the clash with one of Europe’s top sides. While defence and midfield have been far from impressive as well, it is the lack of quality players up front that has been the biggest problem of late, as witnessed by just one goal scored in the last two matches. With most of the player who ply their trade abroad acting as bench warmers, coach Luboslav Penev is forced to put his faith in players from domestic league, and these certainly cannot be expected to match the some of world’s best players who will be on the other side of the pitch.
Dimitar Berbatov has rejected a new call-up by Penev, while Martin Petrov has been overlooked.
Italy back in business
Italy were clearly the surprise package of the Euro 2012, with Cesare Prandelli’s side impressing everyone with their attack-minded style of play. The Azzurri eliminated England and Germany to reach the tournament final, but the combination of fatigue, injuries and unlucky goals saw them record a heavy defeat to Spain. The team, nonetheless, were welcomed as heroes upon their return to Italy, and the good atmosphere surrounding the national team is likely to help the Azzurri during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Cesare Prandelli has been deprived of several players due to injury, but considering the huge pool of talented players available for selection, that certainly won’t be a problem. Italy’s experience, quality and the form of key players should prove enough for a victory in Bulgaria.
Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli, Federico Balzaretti and Giorgio Chiellini miss out, with Pablo Osvaldo and Sebastian Giovinco likely to start up front.
Bulgaria appear to be all over the place at the moment and with Berbatov and the two Petrovs still missing, they cannot be expected to get anything from this game. Italy are flying high after the impressive showing at the Euro 2012 and they are expected to record a comfortable win here.
Our prediction: Away win
Odds: 1.70 (7/10)