Italy striker Pablo Osvaldo struck
twice in four first-half minutes but they had to settle for a
2-2 draw away to Bulgaria in their opening World Cup qualifier
Stanislav Manolev had given the hosts the lead before
Osvaldo's double put Italy ahead and it was left to Bulgaria's
lively midfielder Milanov to earn a share of the points with a
goal midway through the second half of the Group B clash.
"I didn't expect Bulgaria to play like this but you see that
all teams have a difficult periods and Italy are no exception,"
said Italy coach Cesare Prandelli.
Bulgaria coach Luboslav Penev said: "We totally outplayed
Italy, one of the best teams in the world, not [just] in Europe
but they scored two lucky goals.
Expressing his frustration with the decisions of English
referee Martin Atkinson he added: "There were three or four
handballs in their penalty area. It was very difficult for the
referee to award us free-kicks."
The Bulgarians, who failed to score in their four home Euro
2012 qualifiers, almost went ahead when defender Ivan Ivanov's
curling shot from Emil Gargorov's free-kick forced a spectacular
save by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The hosts continued to press forward and took a deserved
lead when Manolev gave Buffon no chance with a stunning 30-metre
drive on the half-hour at the half-empty Vasil Levski stadium.
But Italy, who switched to a 3-5-2 formation, responded with
Argentine-born striker Osvaldo scoring twice before half-time.
The AS Roma player, who was not part of the Italy squad at
Euro 2012 where they lost in the final, netted from close range
in the 36th minute from the unmarked Claudio Marchisio's clever
assist to level the scores with Italy's first shot on goal.
Osvaldo, who got his chance with Antonio Cassano off form
and Mario Balotelli suffering from an eye complaint, gave the
Azzurri the lead when his header deflected off Ivan Ivanov to
leave keeper Nikolay Mihaylov stranded before the break.
Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov blasted a diagonal shot just
wide two minutes before half-time while Mihaylov parried a
thunderous Osvaldo drive from the edge of the area at the other
end, denying the Italian his first international hat-trick.
"It's a memorable evening for me and I'm happy or at least
half-happy with my two goals because the result was not
satisfactory," said Osvaldo.
"I usually score beautiful goals while those were scruffy,
but they are worth as much as the others.
"It was a difficult game, at times we were a bit slow and we
didn't play the way we normally play."
The visitors began the second half with more confidence and
Sebastian Giovinco forced another superb save from Mihaylov.
But the home side responded and Milanov made it 2-2 with a
fine shot from 10 metres following a right-wing cross from
substitute Iliyan Mitsanski after 66 minutes.
Bulgaria could have snatched victory in the 74th minute but
Buffon pulled off a great save, instinctively palming a Manolev
effort over the bar.
Italy held on after midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who was
doubtful with an ankle injury before the game, limped off with
10 minutes left leaving his side down to 10 men with Prandelli
having already made all three substitutions.
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