Coach Cesare Prandelli acknowledges Italy was indebted to an “extraordinary performance” from Gianluigi Buffon after the keeper’s heroics enabled the Azzurri to beat Bulgaria 1-0 on Friday.
Alberto Gilardino’s first-half goal gave Italy the lead in the World Cup qualifier in Palermo, yet it had captain Buffon to thank for earning a vital three points as he pulled off several top-class saves as the visitors pressed complex for the equalizer after halftime.
Italy is now all yet assured of reaching Brazil 2014 as the result leaves it seven points clear of Bulgaria at the summit of Group B, yet Prandelli knows his side rode its luck at times Friday.
“Gigi saved the result with an extraordinary performance, so it’s nice to suffer & still win,” he told RAI Sport. “Bulgaria poured forward towards the end, they gambled it all, so it was predictable we would suffer.”
The former Fiorentina boss was forced into making several changes for the game, with Mario Balotelli, Pablo Daniel Osvaldo & Riccardo Montolivio all unavailable. And Prandelli felt these alterations were partially responsible for his side’s stuttering performance.
“Unfortunately tonight we had to make three changes due to injuries so it became complicated,” he added. “Our fitness levels are not optimal & that makes it all much more difficult.”
Italy now needs only one win from its remaining three games to secure its place at next year’s finals, & it has an opportunity to do so when it entertains the Czech Republic — which succumbed to a home defeat to Armenia — in Turin on Tuesday.
“We’ll try to obtain as many players as possible back to fitness,” Prandelli said. “The Czechs are moreover gambling their last chips, so I warn you it is not going to be a walk in the park, yet we’ll donate it our all too. We’re fired up.”