A win is a win, goes the old adage. However, the 2-0 victory in Tbilisi has done little to dissuade those seeking an Azzurri overhaul following the summer of disappointment. Fortunate to depart the former Soviet Bloc with three points thanks to two bizarre own goals by Milan’s centre half Khaka Kaladze, the Italian press has not held back on venting its frustrations that the national team was dependent on two fortuitous incidents to insure victory against one of the minnows of world football.
Pointing to the fact that, if Kaladze’s goals are discounted despite their inherent hilarity, the Italian strike force has failed to score for over four hours of football. Fabio Quagriella and Vincenzo Iaquinta both managed to strike the goal frame against Georgia but no better and Giuseppe Rossi was unable to capture the form that rocketed him to a starting berth in the Azzurri frontline. The Italian press were not all doom and gloom though, with praise being heaped on second half substitute Gaetano D’Agostino in the middle of the park and Genoa left-back Domenico Criscito, who equipped himself well and it was his tantalising cross that forced Kaladze into the second of his two self-destructive efforts.
There was one man that was outlined as the difference on Saturday night though – Gianluigi Buffon. The veteran Juve shot stopper received immeasurable praise for his cat-like reflexes to deny Vladimir Dvalishvili with an absolutely outstanding one-handed effort which kept out the Georgian’s glancing header with the score at 0-0. Buffon – who was also given immense backing by Marcello Lippi – will need to have his wits about him when the Bulgarians visit the Stadio Olimpico di Torino, with Manchester United’s Dimitar Berbatov likely to prove more clinical when given a clean cut chance than Saturday night’s opposition.
The historical record does not point to a goal-fest though. When the two teams met in Sofia in October last year, the viewing audience was treated to a harshly fought 0-0 that would have caused many sore necks due to the amount of time the ball spent in the air. Italy did have chances to snatch the game away from the Bulgarians on many occasions but Alberto Gilardino failed to make significant contact with Simone Pepe’s vicious free-kick and balked a one-on-one meaning that the two nations would have to take an equal share of the points. Had the Italians forced a win then they may have already legitimately qualified but now they face an in-form Bulgarian side with Ireland snapping at their heels, only a point behind but having played a game more.
The Bulgarians are coming off the back of what turned into an impressive win against lowly Macedonia after nearly heading for a big upset in Sofia. In a game somewhat overshadowed by a boating tragedy in Macedonia earlier in the day, the Balkan nation took the lead nine minutes into the tie when Fiorentina prodigy Stevan Jovetic unleashed a thunderous effort from 25 yards which eluded Dimitar Ivankov and left the home support reeling. However, former Charlton Athletic fullback Radostin Kishishev got the unbeaten record back on track with a low drive on the stroke of half time.
Whatever head coach Stanimir Stoilov grumbled during the fifteen minute break must have worked, as Bulgaria unleashed a torrent of efforts on the Macedonian goal. The white-and-greens eventually ran out 4-1 winners at the Vassil Levski Stadion following goals from Dimitar Telkiyski as well as late strikes from Berbatov and Hertha Berlin’s young midfielder Valeri Domovchiyski. The win meant that Bulgaria has now amassed 11 points from seven games and moves them that ever so much closer to that coveted second spot.
Despite their unbeaten status, Bulgaria have been blighted by an inability to produce performances like Saturday night against the lesser opposition in Group Eight, having drawn in both Montenegro and Georgia thus far. On that form a win in Turin is a very big ask but maybe a 4-1 trouncing and the do-or-die framing of the encounter could give the Bulgarians the impetus to front up and come out fighting when the two teams meet on Wednesday night.
Bulgaria know that they need to depart Northern Italy with all three points leaving them two points shy of Ireland with two games to go.
This is where it could get interesting for that playoff birth – working on the pretence that Italy are favourites to win out the group – with the two team’s run-ins differing greatly. Bulgaria must see off the Cypriots in Nicosia and then have Georgia at home in what could be a make or break game to achieve second place. Meanwhile, Ireland still has to host Italy in Dublin at the start of October before finishing up at home to Montenegro. With Bulgaria’s new found fortitude against the minnows and Ireland’s historical good showings against the Azzurri, this could go down to wire.
– Italy Camp Focus – And it came to pass… – June 23, 2009 – A reflection of the Azzurri at the Confederations Cup, plus links to Football Italiano’s full coverage of the competition
FIFA World Cup 2010 Qualifying – UEFA Group 8
September 6, 2008 – Antonis Papadopoulos Stadium, Larnaca
Cyprus 1-2 Italy – Aloneftis 28; Di Natale 8, 90
September 10, 2008 – Stadio Friuli, Udine
Italy 2-0 Georgia – De Rossi 17, 89
October 11, 2008 – Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia
Bulgaria 0-0 Italy
October 15, 2008 – Via del Mare, Lecce
Italy 2-1 Montenegro – Aquilani 8,29; Vučinić 19
March 28, 2009 – Pod Goricom, Podgorica
Montenegro 0-2 Italy – Pirlo 11, Pazzini 73
April 1, 2009 – Stadio San Nicola, Bari
Italy 1-1 Republic of Ireland – Iaquinta 10; Keane 87
September 5, 2009 – Boris Paichadze Stadium, Tbilisi
Georgia 0-2 Italy – Kaladze OG 57, OG 67
September 9, 2009 – Stadio Olimpico, Turin
Italy vs. Bulgaria
October 10, 2009 – Croke Park, Dublin
Republic of Ireland vs. Italy
October 14, 2009 – venue tbc
Italy vs. Cyprus
World Cup South Africa 2010 Final draw – December 4, 2009