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Italy are only 90 minutes away from an early exit from UEFA EURO 2004™ as they prepare to take on Bulgaria in their final Group C match in Guimarães.
In need of a favour
Nothing less than a handsome victory at the Estádio Afonso D. Henriques will suffice for Giovanni Trapattoni's side, and even at that, they will need a favour from either Denmark or Sweden in the other fixture if they are progress to the quarter-finals. A win for Italy, plus a decisive outcome in the Scandinavian derby, would secure second place for the Azzurri, as would a goalless encounter; but a high-scoring draw at the Estádio do Bessa in Porto would send Italy out on goal difference.
The stakes could not be higher and Trapattoni knows his team have to produce a convincing win against Bulgaria. However, his options are restricted as three of his players – attacking midfield player Francesco Totti, centre-back Fabio Cannavaro and midfield player Gennaro Gattuso – are suspended.
FC Internazionale defender Marco Materazzi or Parma AC's Matteo Ferrari will replace Cannavaro. Stefano Fiore and Mauro Camoranesi will battle it out for a midfield berth alongside Andrea Pirlo and Simone Perrotta, while AS Roma forward Antonio Cassano will continue to deputise for his club-mate, Totti, in a three-pronged attack along with Alessandro Del Piero and one of Christian Vieri and Bernardo Corradi. Vieri was due to have a late fitness test on his injured knee and in his absence Corradi will start.
All about pride
For Bulgaria, this match is all about pride. Plamen Markov's young side are already out of the competition, having lost their first two fixtures to Sweden (5-0) and Denmark (2-0). The frustration of their early exit clearly got the better of them at the end of the Denmark game, resulting in a red card for captain Stilian Petrov along with a rash of yellows.
The Celtic FC midfield player is therefore ineligible for the match, along with centre-back Rosen Kirilov, who picked up a second booking against the Danes. AEK Athens FC midfield player Milen Petkov is expected to deputise for Petrov, while Predrag Pazin has recovered from injury and will patrol the centre of defence along with Zlatomir Zagoric, the PFC Litex Lovech defender who makes his first start in the tournament.
There is a doubt over the fitness of right-back Vladimir Ivanov, who is nursing a sore hamstring, but Markov is confident that he will be ready. Ilian Stoyanov, the PFC Levski Sofia defender who started at centre-half against the Danes, will move to left-back to cover for the injured Ivailo Petkov, while Zoran Jankovic and Dimitar Berbatov will continue their partnership up front looking for that elusive first goal.
The Bulgaria coach said: "There is no tension between the coach and the players. Of course, our results have not been good but there is no particular tension [among the players] over the reception back home. I'm prepared to answer my critics over [selection] choices after the match against Italy."
Italy (probable): Buffon; Panucci, Nesta, Materazzi/Ferrari, Zambrotta; Fiore/Camoranesi, Pirlo, Perrotta, Del Piero; Cassano, Vieri.
Bulgaria (probable): Zdravkov; Ivanov/ Borimirov, Pazin, Zagorcic, Stoyanov; Peev, Hristov, M Petkov, M Petrov; Jankovich, Berbatov.
Referee: Valentin Ivanov (Rus).
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