Italy coach Marcello Lippi is not unduly concerned by his side's struggles in front of goal as they prepare to face Bulgaria in tomorrow's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifier.
It was two own goals from Georgia captain Kakha Kaladze which handed the world champions a 2-0 victory on Saturday in Tbilisi. "This is our story," said Lippi. "In qualifying we have never shone. We, just like other national teams, have always been a team of finals. Our only thoughts should be on going to the World Cup, then in those 30 to 40 days there, everything will be different."
The win over Georgia kept the Italians on top of Group 8 with a one-point advantage over the Republic of Ireland and with a game in hand. The FIFA World Cup-winning coach has not ruled out changing his formation for Wednesday's home qualifier. "The 4-4-2 has not disappointed me," said Lippi. "It could be that I will use it again but maybe I'll change it."
In qualifying we have never shone. We, just like other national teams, have always been a team of finals.
The good news for Lippi is the return of Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who missed the clash in Georgia through suspension. Fabio Quagliarella is doubtful after sustaining a knock to his right knee on Saturday. Bulgaria will be looking to close the gap on the Republic of Ireland. Currently in third place, five points behind the Irish, much will depend on the form of Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov.
At the age of 28, Berbatov has already written his name in the annals of his country's footballing history. Forty-one goals in 67 national-team appearances have taken the him past the legendary Hristo Stoichkov (37 goals) and just six short of all-time top scorer Hristo Bonev (47). He has struggled recently, however, and will be looking to improve against the Italians, saying: "I can do better and I can do more."
A game of little consequence in Group 8 finds Cyprus travelling to Montenegro. Neither side can qualify for the finals in South Africa next year and will be playing for a matter of pride.
When the two sides met in Cyprus earlier in the season the game finished 2-2. Cyprus raced into a 2-0 lead before the interval thanks to Michalis Konstantinou and Chrysostomos Mihail before two late strikes from substitute Dejan Damjanovic hauled Montenegro level.
The FC Seoul striker beat substitute goalkeeper Michalis Morfis with a powerful strike after 65 minutes before winning a penalty when he was tripped by Elias Charalambous. Morfis saved from Vucinic but was unable to keep out Damjanovic's 25-yard strike just moments later, the equaliser coming 13 minutes from full time.
The home form of the Cypriots has hindered their campaign, with just one win on home soil - a 2-1 victory over Georgia back in March. Montenegro's campaign has been blighted by the same poor home form and they will be looking for their first win in Group 8.
Draws against Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Cyprus have given them four points but they lie second from bottom of the table with no hope of qualification. They were hammered 4-1 by Bulgaria in their last outing at the weekend when they failed to cope with Dimitar Berbatov.