With two fixtures remaining, few European qualifying groups are as delicately poised as Italy and Croatia’s Group H. Following up on their 1-0 win over Malta on Thursday night, the Azzurri prevailed over fourth-placed Bulgaria in Palermo thanks to Daniele De Rossi’s early spot-kick.
From then on, Antonio Conte’s men remained in control of the tie despite the goal scorer’s 54th minute dismissal for an altercation with Bulgaria’s Illian Micanski, who was also sent off. The Euro 2012 runners up even had chances to extend their slender lead, the best falling to Leonardo Bonucci seven minutes from time.
The hosts’ rearguard, featuring Gianluigi Buffon, earning his 150th cap on the night, Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci, was rarely tested by the visitors. Further forward, Juventus’ Simone Zaza came off the bench halfway into the second period to make his sixth international appearance.