Italy 1-0 Bulgaria: 6 Things We Learned
Italy ground out a crucial 1-0 victory on Friday against Bulgaria thanks to an Alberto Gilardino header in the first half.
The Azzurri extended their lead at the top of Group B and with a seven-point advantage, the FIGC can start making preparations for Brazil next year.
Cesare Prandelli has done a fine job with Italy and if they can work on a number of issues, there is no reason why the four-time World Cup winners cannot be a contender next year.
Here are six things we learned from the game.
Italy Should Host More Games at the Renzo Barbera
Italy's match against Bulgaria was played in Sicily at Palermo's ground, the Stadio Renzo Barbera.
The Rosanero's home is a terrific stadium on the island and should be hosting more Italy matches due to the hostile atmosphere that it creates.
Without a running track—although it was formerly built with one—La Favorita's stands are close to the pitch and a terrific amount of noise was generated in support of the Azzurri.
By bringing the national team to all parts of Italy, the support for the team will only increase.
With a capacity of little over 36,000, the Renzo Barbera can adequately host both friendlies and qualifiers and after Friday's game, there is no reason why it cannot host more Italy games in the near future.
Gianluigi Buffon Is Still World-Class
Gianluigi Buffon gave a telling reminder to us all that he is still world-class and potentially the best goalkeeper in the sport.
The Juve stopper was sensational and ultimately ensured that Italy took all three points with some stunning saves.
There was none better than the one to deny Ivelin Popov from point-blank range after Todor Nedelev sent over a dangerous cross from the left.
Popov found himself unmarked, six yards out, but was denied by a simply magnificent save as Gigi clawed the ball back from off the line.
One of the cornerstones to a successful international team is a top goalkeeper and Buffon is as good as ever, which gives Italy a real chance to stay in games.
Antonio Candreva Nails Down Starting Role
Antonio Candreva continues to impress in an Azzurri shirt.
The Lazio midfielder is not the most gifted of players, but Prandelli appears to have found a role for him—starting the last five matches.
His industry is much needed in the wide areas and while the 26-year-old might not be flashy, his end product is becoming ever more impressive.
Not afraid to release a rocket of a shot, from any angle or distance, Candreva offers that threat from deep when sides decide to sit in deep against Italy.
Candreva is now prepared to drive past full-backs on the outside and put crosses into the box.
He did so effectively against Bulgaria and if Alberto Gilardino thrived on that kind of service, Mario Balotelli will be licking his lips at the consistency of his delivery.
With Italy's other wide player, who will support a lone striker, tending to possess more guile and creativity, Candreva can complement the side with his continued no-nonsense excellence.
Gilardino Will Ultimately Profit from Remaining at Genoa
Alberto Gilardino's club career has been pivotal in his rejuvenation with the national team.
A decent goal tally of more than 12 strikes will surely cement a squad place at least at next summer's World Cup.
But it could have been so different, after a swap deal with fellow strikers Marco Borriello and Fabio Quagliarella failed to materialise, preventing him from joining Juventus.
As a proven No. 9, Italy will be able to count on Gilardino's predatory instincts in front of goal and his alertness inside the penalty area.
But had he moved to the Bianconeri, a lack of minutes would have dented his chances of sustaining this regular run of games under Prandelli.
The movement inside the penalty area is especially impressive, as Italy have plenty of players willing to play outside of the box, further amplifying Gila's role in the squad, or even the starting lineup.
Lorenzo Insigne Must Keep Things Simple, for Now
Lorenzo Insigne received a start for the national team on Friday, but it was obvious that he needs to improve his decision-making if he is to win a starring role on a more regular basis.
Insigne is going to find it tricky to maintain a start for Napoli, with Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and Goran Pandev competing for wide roles at the Partenopei.
Should he manage to earn plenty of minutes under Rafael Benitez, there is no reason as to why he shouldn't feature prominently for the Azzurri.
However, Insigne's role under Prandelli is to be rather different from the one that he shone so stunningly for the Azzurrini this past summer at the European Under-21 championships.
Under Devis Mangia, Insigne was able to dictate the play and extensively do as he pleased, but that will have to change under Prandelli.
Insigne was rather guilty against Bulgaria of keeping his head down and often ignoring more preferable options.
Cutting inside from the wing and taking pot shots rather tended to interrupt the tempo that Italy were attempting to set.
It is premature to criticise the player too much and some delicate touches in and around the area to link with Gilardino was a promising sign too.
More needs to be done though if he is too hold off competition from Stephan El Shaarawy for more regular starts.
Interchangeability on the Wings Is Becoming Effective for Italy
One of the more impressive facets to Italy's game under Prandelli has been the versatility by the wide players that support the lone striker.
It started with Candreva and Insigne, but Emanuele Giaccherini also demonstrated similar characteristics to what Prandelli is searching for.
Movement is key and all of the above are constantly on the move, but a more important side to the tactics deployed by Prandelli is the regularity at which they swap sides.
No matter what foot is their strongest, we can see Insigne and Candreva having success on each side of the pitch and the Sunderland winger is also adept at filling in on each flank.
For El Shaarawy to regain a starring role, that side of his game needs to be improved, as it can all become a little predictable at times when Il Faraone comes inside from the left.
By stretching the opposition with their willingness to move to the outside of the full-backs, Prandelli forces the opposition to leave more gaps inside that the Azzurri can exploit.
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