Italy seeks its first victory in Bulgaria

Italy seeks its first victory in Bulgaria

SOFIA - Reuters
Italy seeks its first victory in Bulgaria

Italy’s Marco Verratti faces goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during a training session ahead of Group B 2014 World Cup qualifying match between Italy and Bulgaria. AP photo

Italy, without strikers Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, begins its World Cup qualifying campaign tonight seeking its first victory over Bulgaria on the opponent’s soil.

For a team that has won every major international trophy, Italy’s record in Bulgaria is not a proud one -- two defeats and two draws with six goals conceded dating back to 1968. Most recently they emerged with a goalless draw in a 2010 World Cup qualifier four years ago.

The Italy team to face Luboslav Penev’s side in the Group B match at the Vasil Levski stadium will also have a different look to the one that impressed at Euro 2012.

Balotelli is out due to eye surgery and Cassano has been dropped, so coach Cesare Prandelli, who hopes to have Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi ready, is expected to use a 3-5-2 formation.

Prandelli has tried the formation before -- notably in the early stages of Euro 2012, where his side finished runners-up to Spain, though eventually he settled on a back four.

De Rossi, who suffered an ankle injury during Roma’s 3-1 win at Inter Milan last weekend, was thought to be out, but Prandelli revealed he might recover in time.

Prandelli is also expected to favor Juventus’ diminutive playmaker Sebastian Giovinco over Mattia Destro in attack alongside Destro’s in-form Roma teammate Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, who has scored in his team’s first two games this season.

Bulgaria, which has failed to qualify for a major tournament since 2004, has lost only once in four matches since coach Penev took over after the previous qualifying campaign, including a morale-boosting 2-1 away win over the Netherlands in May.

But this week Penev suffered a blow when striker Dimitar Berbatov, Bulgaria’s all-time leading scorer with 48 goals, said he would not end his self-imposed international exile despite signaling he would be open to an approach from the coach.