Soccer: Italy to rejig attack for Bulgaria
Prandelli without suspended Balotelli, Osvaldo05 September, 16:38
The Azzurri are four points clear at the top of European Qualifying Group B and can guarantee themselves a spot at next year's tournament in Brazil with two games to spare if they beat Bulgaria in Palermo and defeat the Czech Republic in Turin on Tuesday.
But the absence of five regulars, including suspended forwards Mario Balotelli and Pablo Osvaldo, will force Prandelli to make adjustments.
AC Milan's Balotelli and Osvaldo, who moved from AS Roma to Premier League Southampton in the close season, will be available for the Czech match along with Milan playmaker Riccardo Montolivo, who is also suspended for Friday's clash.
But defender Andrea Barzagli is out of both games with an Achilles tendon problem and his Juventus teammate Claudio Marchisio, a midfielder, has been sidelined by a knee injury.
Prandelli is expected to field Genoa's veteran Alberto Gilardino on his own up front Friday with support from the flanks from Lazio's Antonio Candreva and Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne or Sunderland's Emanuele Giaccherini.
Captain Gianluigi Buffon, who will match Fabio Cannavaro's record of 136 Italy caps if he plays against Bulgaria and the Czechs, said he was "moderately worried" about the upcoming matches.
"I always am before games like these, which are crucial for qualification (for a major tournament)," added the 35-year-old Juventus keeper ahead of the game against the second-placed Bulgarians. "We've deserved qualification on the basis of what we've done so far, but it is not tangible yet.
"We'll have to face these games with great attention to take another step forward. "Bulgaria are a solid side who know how to tackle these types of game. They know how to defend and counterattack". Buffon said Wednesday that he had no intention of retiring from international football after the World Cup, stressing he would always be available for the national team.
"Representing my country, my nation, is something I refuse to do without. It's something very few people have the fortune to be able to do," Buffon told reporters. "That's why it'll never be me who is the one who says 'enough'. It would be a sort of desertion. "If one day they decide not to call me up any more, or they put me on the bench for the good of the national team, there won't be any problems. "I remain ready for orders...only when they tell me to stand aside will I acknowledge this and say goodbye". Buffon has been considered the world's top keeper for much of his career, although there have been suggestions he is past his best after some poor performances recently.
The run-up to the Bulgaria clash has been overshadowed to some degree by speculation about who will be Italy's next coach, amid reports Prandelli is set to step down to return to club football after the World Cup.
The favourites are Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, who admitted Wednesday that he wants to coach the national team one day, and Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni.