Bulgaria hold hapless Italy to 2-2 draw
SOFIA, Sept 7, 2012 (AFP) - Bulgaria came close to stunning beaten Euro 2012 finalists Italy in their 2014 World Cup Group B opener which ended in a 2-2 draw at the Vasil Levski Stadium on Friday.
On only his third match for Italy, Argentine-born striker Pablo Osvaldo scored a brace and his first goals for his adopted country.
However Italy, beaten 4-0 by Spain in the Euro 2012 final five weeks ago, were held after goals by Stanislav Manolev and Gerogi Milanov either side of Osvaldo's brace.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli's decision to revive the 3-5-2 formation he used only fleetingly at Euro 2012 looked questionable during a first half in which Bulgaria regularly exposed Italy's defence.
Early on Bulgaria forward Ivelin Popov was allowed to stroll down the left flank towards goal and send an inviting cross over the goalmouth only to be devoid of takers.
Vladimir Gadzhev then tested Buffon's reflexes with a low, rasping shot which the Juventus keeper collected with relative ease.
Buffon was then at full stretch in the 24th minute with only his fingertips keeping out Ivan Ivanov's goalbound close range toe-poke from Gerogi Milanov's probing free kick.
Midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini raised Italy's hopes when he hustled past the home defence to cross for defender Christian Maggio, who could only poke the ball out for a corner.
Prandelli's 3-5-2 formation was often reliant on the counter-attack and, having been bossed since the start, for a brief moment the visitors finally looked to have found their stride.
Once again, however, Bulgaria's hard work gave them back possession and when Stanislav Malonev was given space to run unhindered through midfield he stunned Buffon with a 30-metre drive which bounced just in front of the diving 'keeper and into the net.
Italy were stunned but were soon back on level terms.
A dangerous Andrea Pirlo free-kick from the right had Bulgaria's defence scrambling before the ball was headed out.
And when the marauding Leonardo Bonucci's cross for the unmarked Claudio Marchisio was headed expertly down to Osvaldo in the 36th minute the Argentine-born striker rounded the defence to send the ball past Nikolay Mihaylov.
Three minutes later Roma striker Osvaldo grabbed his second career goal for Italy after stooping to head a deep cross which flew into the net after deflecting off a defender.
To their credit Bulgaria almost pulled level immediately, with Popov controlling a deep cross on his chest and turning to volley only to see his effort to inch over the bar.
Popov then pounced on the ball after Maggio failed to deal with a cross from the right, allowing the forward to send a low drive that a diving Buffon was only to happy to see zip past his far post.
A counter-attack launched by defender Angelo Ogbbonna ended with Osvaldo being given the chance to turn and drive a shot from the edge of the area that Mihajlov did well to parry.
It was a miss Italy would go on to regret.
Bulgaria came out fired up for the second half and had several chances to seal the match.
Giaccherini did well to send a probing cross out for a corner as forwards waited to pounce and on the hour mark Buffon got down low to parry and had to rely on his defence to sweep the ball to safety.
Bulgaria got the equaliser minutes later with a superb three-pronged move that carved open the visitors' defence allowing Milanov to drive the ball past Buffon from 10 metres out.