De Rossi spares Italy's blushes

Daniele De Rossi (AFP)
Daniele De Rossi (AFP)

Palermo - Daniele De Rossi converted an early penalty and was later sent off as Italy beat Bulgaria 1-0 in a Euro 2016 qualifier which saw goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon win his 150th cap for the hosts on Sunday.

De Rossi scored with a twice-taken penalty in the sixth minute but blotted his copybook early in the second half when he was dismissed after clashing with Iliyan Mitsanski, who was also sent off.

Buffon, who won his first cap in a World Cup qualifier away to Russia in 1997, rescued Italy with a difficult save from Giorgi Milanov in stoppage time.

The win took Italy top of Group H with 18 points from eight games and kept them on course for a top-two finish which would ensure a place in France next year.

They are followed by Norway (16) and Croatia (15) while Bulgaria are fourth with eight points and two games left.

"We dominated the game and deserved to score more goals," coach Antonio Conte told Rai television. "I'm disappointed that the result was in the balance until the end, you always run the risk of getting an unlucky rebound.

"I didn't see the De Rossi incident but if he retaliated, then he's made a mistake, because he could have put everything at risk."

Playmaker Andrea Pirlo was left out as Conte made several changes following his team's much-criticised, lacklustre performance in their 1-0 win over Malta on Thursday.

Italy nearly went ahead in the first minute when Graziano Pelle's shot as saved by Bozhidar Mitrev and Stephan El Shaarawy tried to score with an overhead kick from the rebound but sent his effort over the bar.

But Italy quickly won a penalty when Antonio Candreva was felled.

De Rossi stepped up and, although his first effort was ruled out for encroachment, he kept his cool on the second attempt, again sending his shot low to the Mitrev's left.

Buffon came to the rescue for the first time in the 18th minute with a superb save to block Mitsanski's low shot on the counterattack.

Italy created and missed a flurry of chances and had to be content with a single-goal advantage at halftime.

Tempers flared 11 minutes into the second half when Mitsanski fouled De Rossi, the two exchanged kicks and were both sent off.

Todor Nedelev then gave Italy a fright when he curled a shot just over the crossbar.

Bulgaria came to life in the closing 20 minutes, creating a number of dangerous situations, and Milanov tested Buffon with a swerving, long-range effort which the 37-year-old veteran did well to parry.

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