Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Italy are traditionally slow starters to World Cup qualifying campaigns, so with that in mind, the 2-2 draw in Bulgaria has to be seen as something of a positive opener.
The Azzurri have yet to win in Sofia in five visits and played out a goalless draw in the same stadium during qualification for South Africa 2010, however much more was expected from Cesare Prandelli’s side, which had performed so admirably at Euro 2012.
There was a completely different attack to the one that reached the final in Ukraine just two months back, with Antonio Cassano seemingly consigned to the sidelines once and for all, and Mario Balotelli still recovering from eye surgery.
However, it was the new-look attack that shone, with Pablo Daniel Osvaldo in particular taking his chance having been ignored in the summer. The AS Roma man scored a brace, and in truth could easily have had a hat-trick.
Osvaldo had previously been left out of Prandelli’s plans thanks in part to his poor disciplinary record, although that doesn't seem to have improved this season given he was sent off at Inter last weekend.
Yet the Argentine-born frontman has scored two contenders for goal of the season in the first two outings for the Giallorossi – a stunning bicycle-kick on the opening day against Catania and a sublime chip at Inter which would have sent the whole of the Europe potty had it been scored by Leo Messi.
Osvaldo certainly has a bit of a wild streak, and when he is not scoring divine goals or arguing with referees (or his own team-mates, as was the case with Erik Lamela last year), he is modeling himself on Johnny Depp.
Decked out in the same garb as the Pirates of the Caribbean star, right down to the goatee and dropdown spectacles, the too-cool-for-school 26-year-old was in danger of becoming something of a caricature on the pitch as well.
Osvaldo (centre) brings a swashbuckling swagger to the Italy side
There had been reports that Roma were growing tired of his boorish behaviour and were ready to offload him back to Spain where he had played at Espanyol following a stint at Fiorentina, but that threat and the snub from Prandelli seems to have been the wake up he needed.
The return of Zdenek Zeman to the Capital club and the physical demands the veteran coach enforces on his players have already paid dividends if Osvaldo’s first two outings of the season are anything to go by.
Italy can certainly benefit from such a naturally-talented finisher, as goals have been a problem for the national side ever since Christian Vieri called it a day, save an all too brief purple patch for Luca Toni – but on Friday evening Osvaldo give notice that he could finally fill that void in attack.
The untried partnership with Sebastian Giovinco was starved of support for most of the evening as Prandelli packed the midfield with five players who were all below-par – and their sluggish approach only exposed the three-man backline which looked ill-at-ease when they attempted to push forward.
Fortunately, after Gigi Buffon’s howler gifted the home side the lead, there was a response from the hard-working Juventus pair Claudio Marchisio and Emanuele Giaccherini to at least work the ball into the opposition penalty area, where Osvaldo coolly netted his first and then had the good fortune to see a header deflect home to put Italy ahead.
It may not have had the beauty of Osvaldo’s usual finishes, but no one was too concerned how the goals were coming. This encouraged Italy to push on, and they should have put the matter to rest before the break, only for Osvaldo to be denied his hat-trick when his cleanly-struck effort was well saved.
The second-half was a story of muddled defending, but for the first time under Prandelli a return to long, aimless balls played forward which only handed possession back to Bulgaria who in the end could have taken all three points if not for Buffon’s sharp reflexes although Marchisio had a chance late on.
Malta at home on Tuesday should provide Italy with the opportunity to get the ship back on course for Brazil – and in the Jack Sparrow of Italian football they have the sort of maverick swagger to make the trip an eventful one.
Latest Italian Football News
Milan snatch Champions League spot late on
Lamela earns Argentina call-up as Messi understudy
Milan striker Pazzini out for up to six months
Rome derby cup final a potential powder keg
Milan ultras want Allegri to stay as coach
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010