Both sides struggled to create chances in a tight opening, with Gianluigi Buffon eventually called upon to keep the Azzurri ahead in his 135th international appearance.
7.17pmEvening Azzurri fans. Thanks for checking in with Sports Mole tonight for the first of a crucial double header for Italy in their bid to secure safe passage to next summer's World Cup. Bulgaria are the visitors tonight, with both sides desperate for a positive result in a tight group.
7.19pmCesare Prandelli's side currently sit top of Group B, four points clear of Bulgaria in second place. A victory this evening backed up by a positive result against the Czech Republic on Wednesday should just about be job done for Italy, but Bulgaria should offer stubborn opposition in Sicily this evening.
7.22pmBulgaria got a huge lift just before kickoff, with the Czech Republic falling 2-1 at home to surprise package Armenia in this evening's early qualifier. That means the visitors will stay in second whatever happens against the Azzurri, while also giving Denmark the slightest glimmer of hope back in fifth.
7.25pmItaly must definitely be on their guard tonight, especially as a trio of key players are missing this evening through a combination of injury and suspension. Talismanic forward Mario Balotell sits out through suspension along with Pablo Osvalo, who scored twice against Bulgaria in the reverse fixture. Riccardo Montolivo is also unavailable, forcing Prandelli to shuffle his pack and rely on fringe players to come in and perform.
7.28pmBREAKING TEAM NEWS! Well the team sheets have just reached us from Sicily and feature a first start in Azzurri blue for Lorenzo Insigne. A full look at both teams will follow in just a few moments.
7.31pmITALY: Buffon, Abate, Bonucci, Chiellini, Antonelli, Thiago Motta, Pirlo, De Rossi; Candreva, Insigne, Gilardino
7.34pmA very interesting team selection from Prandelli this evening, with Insigne finally winning his first full start in what looks likely to be a 4-3-2-1 formation. Prandelli has gone with experienced striker Alberto Gilardino in attack, with Stephan El Shaarawy continuing a frustrating start to the campaign by being dropped to the bench.
7.37pmGianluigi Buffon wins his 135th cap for the Azzurri in goal this evening, with Georgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi helping to form an experienced spine for the hosts. Emanuele Giaccherini is rather unfortunate to lose his place to Insigne in midfield, with the Napoli starlet and Antonio Candreva called upon by Prandelli for creative spark.
7.39pmBULGARIA: Mihaylov; Y Minev, Bodurov, Ivanov, V Minev, Dyakov, Manolev, Iliev, Gadzhev, Popov, Tonev
7.41pmBulgaria will be heavily reliant on Aston Villa winger Aleksandar Tonev to provide pace on the counter, while PSV Eindhoven man Stanislav Manolev has also been consistent during qualifying for the visitors.
7.43pmPREDICTION! With qualifying now firmly in their grasp I just can't see Italy dropping points tonight, even without Balotelli or Osvaldo. There is enough experience out there to overcome a compact, disciplined Bulgarian outfit, so I'll go for Insigne to bag his a goal on his first Azzurri start in a 2-0 home win.
7.45pmPre-match formalities are just about concluded in a wonderful atmosphere down in Sicily, we are ready to get underway. Can the Azzurri effectively book their place in next summer's World Cup with victory tonight? We are about to find out!
0 minWe are underway in Palermo as Italy get us underway. The Azzurri are quick to get Insigne on the ball, with his through ball finding Gilardino. His scuffed shot is easily claimed in a bright start for the hosts.
2 minBulgaria survive that early scare and lump upfield, but Bonucci quickly intercepts. His long ball forward is eventually fashioned into a cross by Motta, but the curling pass is beyond Abate's late run towards the far post and trickles out.
4 minManolev's strong challenge on Gilardino is poorly timed in central midfield, with the midfielder rather unfortunate to escape a caution even at this early stage.
7 minDe Rossi's diagonal towards Gilardino drifts wide of its intended target, with Bulgaria just starting to settle after a shaky start. Popov is getting on the ball in central midfield as the visitors finally keep the ball for a sustained spell, with Nedelev's specuative strike from range flying over the crossbar.
10 minJust a lack of patience from Italy here early on as Motta take his turn to smash long and aimlessly through to Bulgaria goalkeeper Mihaylov.
12 minMotta quickly tries to atone as he strides into the final third, but a breakdown in communication with Gilardino sees the lone striker's run off his marker go unrewarded. Half-hearted appeals for a free kick from Candreva then fall on deaf ears as Bulgaria clear upfield and push out.
15 minGilardino goes to ground rather theatrically just outside the box and has protests for a foul waved away quickly. At the other end Manolev wins a free kick out wide after a rash challenge from Motta, Illiev's cross smashed clear by Bonucci.
17 minDe Rossi loses the ball in possession as Italy fail to control play effectively in a congested midfield area. Bulgaria then attempt an exchange out wide as Nedelev finds Minev, but his cross is flicked clear. Encouraging signs here for the visitors early on.
18 minPirlo just puts a little too much on a delicate chip out to Antonelli, who had bombed on from full-back down the left wing. At the other end a long-range effort from Manolev flies well beyond Buffon's near post, with the effort never troubling the Azzurri stopper.
20 minMuch more like it from Italy as Insigne cuts inside with purpose before squaring for Pirlo, who smashes over the crossbar from 20 yards.
23 minSHOT! Bulgaria get a break just outside the box and Tonev nearly takes full advantage, smashing a volley into the ground from 20 yards. His effort skims off the turf before bouncing up just infront of Buffon, who does well to parry before gathering at the second time of asking. Italy are then quick to clear and break, with Insigne winning their first corner kick.
26 minSHOT! Popov continues an assured start withdrawn in midfield by turning away from danger, but Italy soon retrieve possession and stride forward. Gilardino's pops the ball back into De Rossi's path, with his instinctive effort from 20 yards drifting just beyond the near post.
28 minInsigne attempts to catch Mihaylov out at his near post. His effort from range is probably going wide but the goalkeeper takes no chances, tipping behind to concede a corner kick. The visitors are able to clear with relative ease when the cross comes in.
31 minCandreva shows pace to get beyond his marker and meet a clever flick down the byline, but can only keep the ball in play at full stretch just inside the penalty area. Mihaylov gratefully claims at his near post, but is starting to finally come under concerted pressure, without having to stop any clear-cut chances for the hosts.
36 minGOAL! Italy 1-0 Bulgaria (Gilardino)
36 minThe Azzurri have the lead thanks to some trademark movement inside the penalty area from Gilardino. The veteran lost his marker to meet Candreva's dangerous cross into the penalty area, flicking a glancing header beyond Miyahlov to break the deadlock with just about the Azzurri's first clear-cut opportunity.
37 minBulgaria look all at sea defensively after conceding as Antonelli breaks clear out wide, with his deep cross just about cleared by Miyahlov, but only after the keeper flapped at the delivery on more than one occasion. Time for the visitors to shore things up now and hang on until the break.
41 minItaly get a chorus of 'Ole, Ole' from the home fans after keeping possession unchallenged for at least three minutes. Eventually Bulgarian frustration boils over as Dyakov hacks over De Rossi, conceding a free kick just outside the penalty area.
43 minWonderful invention on the free kick from Pirlo but just a touch too high for De Rossi, who had made a clever late run towards the far post totally unmarked. Bulgaria are holding an inquest into their inept marking from that set-piece and rather fortunate to escape unpunished.
8.34pmHALF-TIME Italy 1-0 Bulgaria
8.37pmThe Spanish official decides to blow the whistle for half-time with not even a second of added time, much to the relief of a grateful Bulgaria. The visitors were relatively comfortable for much of the first period, but Candreva and Gilardino combined brilliantly just before the break and that moment proved enough to give Italy the lead.
8.40pmItaly controlled possession for much of the first period but were unable to create opportunities for Gilardino, who looked slightly isolated in attack. Bulgaria's gameplan has effectively been thrown in the bin by that goal from the veteran. If things stay like this the Azzurri will be seven points clear at the top of Group B.
8.43pmPrandelli's switch of formation was an interesting choice, primarily to negate losing Balotelli through suspension. Candreva and Insigne have license to roam in a 4-3-2-1 tonight, but have found space hard to come by in the most part.
8.46pmBENCH WATCH! A quick glance at the Azzurri subs list tonight shows El Shaarawy, Giaccherini, Aquilani and Diamanti all hoping to come on and impress. Bulgaria will likely to turn to Rangelov in their search for an equaliser in the second half, with the forward recalled for the first time since last November.
46 minTime for the second half then as Bulgaria get us underway. Just a reminder that if Italy maintain their advantage this evening a win at home to the Czech's on Tuesday will be enough to secure World Cup qualification with two games to spare.
48 minMotta has just carved the Bulgaria defence open with a wonderful pass between two central defenders. Gilardino races onto the ball and from an acute angle attempts to chip Mihaylov, but gets his contact wrong as the goalie clears.
51 minSAVE! Gigi Buffon has just made a quite spectacular save, which is definitely reminiscent of David Seaman's last-ditch stop against Sheffield United a decade ago in an FA Cup semi-final. The veteran keeper has somehow scrambled a shot from Popov off the line, with the winger's effort from four yards somehow tipped away by a wonderful stop on the line. Magnificent stuff there to keep the Azzurri ahead, but only just.
53 minItaly are forced into action by that lapse in concentration at the back, with Insigne sending a tame effort through to Mihaylov after collecting Pirlo's quick pass out wide. The Napoli forward really should have done better there, after driving inside with purpose.
56 minSUBSTITUTION: Bulgaria have decided to make a change early in the second half, with Illiev replacing Manolev out wide. The replacement was rather unfortunate not to start this evening, but has around 35 minutes to prove his manager's decision was a poor one with a positive contribution for the visitors.
59 minNedelev just fails to gather a switch outside from Popov as Bulgaria's latest foray forward breaks down. Insigne attempts to lead an Italian counter but lacks support out wide, allowing the visitors to regain possession rather too easily for Prandelli's liking.
62 minAntonelli has injured himself putting in a sliding challenge on the touchline, which has handed Bulgaria a corner kick they must now wait to take. The full-back rather sneakily goes back onto the field in pain, but is soon told to leave the field.
64 minCLOSE! Bulgaria are adamant that they have just equalised after catching Italy cold with a quick corner, but the linesman disagrees and decides Buffon cleared just in time. When the second corner comes in Buffon is once again called upon to make a superb stop, denying the hosts as Illiev's header looked destined for the bottom corner. Italy are really hanging on now.
67 minSUBSTITUTIONS: More good football from the visitors as Nedelev drives just beyond the far post with a curling drive from 20 yards. Italy have made two changes in response to a poor start to the second period, with Giaccherini replacing Insigne. Davide Astori has also come on for the injured Antonelli, while Bulgaria have swapped Tonev for Rangelov in attack.
69 minAstori's introduction has seen the Caglari defender come on at centre-back, with Chiellini moved to an unfamiliar left-back position.
71 minItaly give their defence a much-needed breather as Giaccherini wins a free-kick around 30 yards from goal. Pirlo steps up to take and easily curls round a rather shabby two-man wall, but Mihaylov has plenty of time to get across and save at his near post.
73 minMore reasons to be anxious for Prandelli as Popov fails to connect properly with a volley at the far post, before Gadzhev's shot from range on the follow-up flies wide. Italy are backing off and inviting Bulgaria to keep possession, happy to play on the counter with their narrow advantage.
75 minCHANCE! Bulgaria have very nearly ended this match as a contest as Mihaylov is left exposed by an awful backpass across goal. Gilardino nips in to round the goalkeeper and thread through towards goal, but thankfully for the visitors Bodurov read the danger and tracked back to clear off the line!
78 minSUBSTITUTION: A final throw of the dice for Bulgaria boss Penev as he makes his last change. Stoyanov has replaced Dyakov in central midfield and will represent a far more attacking option, playing just off Rangelov in the closing stages.
80 minBulgaria skipper Popov robs Pirlo in central midfield and drives forward, eventually settling for a corner kick as his cross is blocked behind. Italy clear the corner as far as Gadzhev outside the area, with his drilled effort off-balance going well beyond Buffon's near post.
82 minSUBSTITUTION: Italy have been forced to make their last change prematurely and it's a second swap through injury. Ignazio Abate has done down clutching his thigh and immediately signals to the bench. Christian Maggio is quickly on as his replacement and will help form a makeshift back four in the final few minutes.
85 minYELLOW CARD! Giaccherini turns away from two challenges out wide and finds a run from Candreva out wide. Eventually Bulgaria press and win back possession, with Giaccherini launching into a late lunge on Nedelev in frustration. That tackle earns the Sunderland winger the first booking of the evening and it's thoroughly deserved.
88 minGiaccherini is quickly involved again as his fresh legs drive down the touchline, eventually settling for a corner kick as Bodurov comes across to clear. Time running out now for Bulgaria to get an equaliser their overall play probably merits.
90 min+1Illiev attempts to win a corner kick for Bulgaria as we head towards four minutes of added time, but a cross takes a deflection back off his chest and goes out for a goal kick.
90 min+3Bulgaria win successive corner kicks as the pressure mounts late on. Visiting goalkeeper Mihaylov comes forward for the second corner, but Astori gets a header away before Giaccherini smashes into touch.
9.40pmFULL-TIME Italy 1-0 Bulgaria
9.43pmWell by the skin of their teeth it's job done for Italy, with Popov's late efforts in vain for plucky Bulgaria. Victory for Prandelli's men against the Czech Republic on Tuesday will now be enough to secure World Cup qualification.
9.46pmThat just about does it then for our coverage from Palermo, with Alberto Gilardino's goal enough to separate the two sides. Thanks for sticking with Sports Mole tonight and be sure to stay tuned for comprehensive coverage of all the key qualifiers from across Europe tonight.