Eder scored a scorching late goal on his debut to give Italy a 2-2 draw in Bulgaria.
The Azzurri needed a victory to stay joint top of Euro 2016 qualifying Group H with Croatia, who crushed Norway 5-1 earlier this evening. There was huge controversy leading up to this game, as Antonio Conte stormed out of an interview, was criticised by Juventus and received death threats via social media after an injury to Claudio Marchisio. Gigi Buffon, Manuel Pasqual, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Florenzi also pulled out, so Salvatore Sirigu, Luca Antonelli, Andrea Bertolacci and Marco Verratti received rare starts.
Italy had never won in Sofia before, managing just two draws and a defeat here. This was the first competitive match in charge for new Coach Ivaylo Petev, who missed Georgi Milanov and Georgi Iliev.
It took just 20 seconds for Ciro Immobile to go clear on goal, his angled drive deflected past the far post. The deadlock was broken soon after, as Bertolacci’s cross was only flapped by Nikolai Mihaylov, ricocheting off Yordan Minev into the net from six yards.
Moments later Mihaylov flew to palm away an Antonio Candreva free kick, but the aggressive start didn’t pay off because Bulgaria equalised. Ivelin Popov was allowed too much space by a Leonardo Bonucci error and unleashed a strike from distance that flew into the bottom corner.
Bulgaria then turned the game around completely, Popov again going forward centrally on the counter, then spreading to the right for a Georgi Milanov cross that Ilian Micanski nodded in by getting in front of Andrea Barzagli.
Immobile missed a sitter, sending his diving header from a Marco Verratti free kick wide, but Popov went even closer when curling a set piece on to the top of the crossbar.
After the restart Immobile was incorrectly flagged offside when clear on goal, while Sampdoria’s Brazilian forward Eder made his Italy debut.
Verratti blasted off target, while Antonelli just failed to get on the end of a Candreva assist in front of goal. There was a double chance, but Immobile stung Mihaylov’s gloves and Bertolacci turned the follow-up wide.
Bertolacci was perhaps Italy’s best player, but went off with a sore shoulder. Giorgio Chiellini volleyed a Manolo Gabbiadini corner off target. Immobile and Matteo Darmian were booked, so will be suspended against Croatia.
Eder marked his debut with a stunning goal and silenced the debate over Oriundi. The Sampdoria man gathered with his back to goal just outside the box, turned his marker and curled a sensational finish into the far top corner.
Italy suddenly seemed reinvigorated, as a cross was knocked down for Gabbiadini, whose finish shaved a coat of paint off the upright. Nikolay Bodurov was decisive to stop Immobile’s cross reaching Gabbiadini for a tap-in.
Bulgaria 2-2 Italy
Scorers: Y Minev og 4 (I), Popov 11 (B), Micanski 17 (B), Eder 84 (I)
Bulgaria: Mihaylov; Manolev, Bodurov, A Aleksandrov, Y Minev; Gadzhev, Dyakov; Milanov (V Vasilev 89), Popov, M Alexandrov; Micanski (Bojinov 73)
Italy: Sirigu; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Darmian, Candreva, Verratti, Bertolacci (Soriano 72), Antonelli (Gabbiadini 77); Zaza (Eder 58), Immobile
Ref: Skomina (SLV)