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Preview: Italy vs. Bulgaria

Sports Mole previews the Euro 2016 qualifying clash between Italy and Bulgaria.

Italy will look to continue their progress towards qualification for Euro 2016 in their clash against Bulgaria.

The Azzurri defeated Malta 1-0 thanks to a strike from Graziano Pelle, while the Lions fell to a 1-0 loss to Norway in their Group H encounter on Thursday.


Italy

Italy's coach Antonio Conte follows the action during the UEFA Euro 2016 Group H qualifying football match Norway vs Italy on September 9, 2014© Getty Images

Antonio Conte's men were far from their best in their match against Malta, but they still managed to clinch three vital points in their quest for qualification for the tournament next year.

Southampton's Pelle notched his second goal of the campaign when he found the net in the 69th minute by turning Antonio Candreva's cross past Andrew Hogg.

The Azzurri will know that they will have to play a lot better than they did against Malta in their clash against Bulgaria to clinch the three points, which could all but secure their place at Euro 2016.

Despite not being at their best during their qualifying campaign, Conte's men have yet to lose a game in Group H, which speaks volumes about the resilience of the team.

Italy have conceded just five goals in their seven matches and have kept three clean sheets, although their shutout against Malta was their first since playing Pietro Ghedin's men last year. Conte will be determined for his side to build on their defensive performance against the Lions.

The Azzurri have not been prolific in front of goal as they have netted just 10 times during the campaign, despite playing Malta twice and Azerbaijan, who have struggled in the past against the stronger teams.

Pelle, Candreva and Giorgio Chiellini have all netted two goals and are Italy's leading scorers, while Eder, Simone Zaza and Leonardo Bonucci have all scored one. Conte will want his team to start finding their form in front of goal ahead of the tournament next year sooner rather than later.

Recent form: WDDDLW


Bulgaria

Nikolay Bodurov of Bulgaria during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier group B match between Italy and Bulgaria at Renzo Barbera Stadium on September 6, 2013© Getty Images

Bulgaria's hopes of qualifying for Euro 2016 all but ended in their defeat to Norway as they are now five points behind Per-Mathias Hogmo's men in third place in Group H.

Vegard Forren's strike in the 59th minute in Sofia was enough to condemn the Lions to the loss, which has left them needing a miracle to reach the tournament next year.

Ivaylo Petev's side's problem has been their home form as they have failed to win any of their four matches at the Vasil Levsk National Stadium in the qualifying campaign, taking two points from a possible 12.

Bulgaria have only managed to beat Azerbaijan and Malta on their travels, although they did come within four minutes of beating the Azzurri in their clash earlier this year in Sofia.

The Lions have struggled in front of goal during the campaign, failing to score in two of their four home matches. Ilijan Micanski and Ivelin Popov have both netted two goals apiece, while Nikolay Bodurov, Andrey Galabinov and Ventsislav Hristov are the only other players to net for Petev's men.

If Bulgaria have had problems scoring goals they have had more trouble keeping them out. The Lions have kept just one clean sheet in their seven matches, and that was against Malta who have scored just one goal in the qualifying campaign.

Petev's side will have to improve in at both ends of the pitch if they are to pull off a victory over the Azzurri at the Stadio Renzo Barbera.

Recent form: DDDLWL


Team News

Graziano Pelle of Italy celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the EURO 2016 Group H Qualifier match between Italy and Malta during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifier between Italy and Malta on September 3, 2015© Getty Images

Conte is unlikely to make sweeping changes to his side, but Candreva will probably come into the starting lineup after he came off the bench to create Pelle's goal in their win over Malta.

Daniele De Rossi could also feature to add bite into the midfield at the expense of Andrea Bertolacci, while Roberto Soriano and Marco Parolo will also be pushing for a starting berth.

Petev could rotate his side following their defeat to Norway as Aleksandar Tonev, Dimitar Rangelov, Todor Nedelev and Ventsislav Hristov are all available to feature for the Lions.

Nikolay Mihaylov could return in goal to ease his side's keeping crisis after a stomach virus ruled him out of his side's loss on Thursday. However, Valeri Bojinov will miss the match due to injury.

Italy possible starting lineup:
Buffon; Darmian, Bonucci, Chiellini, Pasqual; Verratti, Pirlo, Bertolacci; Gabbiadini, Candreva, Pelle

Bulgaria possible starting lineup:
Mitrev; Bandalovski, Aleksandrov, Bodurov, Minev; Dyakov, Chochev; Tonev, Popov, Milanov; Mitsanski


Head To Head

The teams played out a 2-2 draw earlier this year as a late strike from Eder saved Italy from defeat at the Vasil Levski National Stadium after goals from Popov and Micanski put Bulgaria ahead.

The Azzurri's last win over Bulgaria came in their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign when a goal from Alberto Gilardino handed them a 1-0 win. The Lions' last win over Italy came back in 1991 when they recorded a 2-1 victory in a friendly game.

Over the course of history, Italy have won nine of the 18 matches between the sides, while Bulgaria have won just twice, and seven of the clashes have ended in draws.


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We say: Italy 1-0 Bulgaria

Italy have not been performing well in their qualifying campaign, but have found a way to grind out results and they will continue the pattern by securing a narrow victory over Petev's men.



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Citadin Eder of Sampdoria celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on March 22, 2015
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