Bulgaria and Ireland look to put pressure on Italy
London - Bulgaria and the Republic of Ireland meet in a World Cup qualifier in Sofia Saturday with both sides looking to close the gap on Group 8 leaders Italy.
The Azzurri aren't in World Cup action at the weekend and instead face Northern Ireland in a friendly in Pisa before flying out to South Africa to compete in the Confederations Cup.
This gives Ireland the chance to move one point clear of Marcello Lippi's team at the top of the group with victory over Bulgaria, who themselves need a win to move two points behind the Irish with a game in hand, and have any chance of staying in the hunt for a top-two finish.
"Bulgaria are the favourites - it9s in their back yard and the pressure is on them to come at us and get the three points," said Manchester City and Ireland defender Richard Dunne at Arsenal's Colney centre in Hertfordshire, England.
"We just need to do our jobs and still be in pole position afterwards."
Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will most likely be satisfied with a draw at the Valeri Levski stadium, not least because Dimitar Berbatov and Manchester City duo Martin Petrov and Valeri Bojinov are all available for Bulgaria.
Ireland strikers Robbie Keane and Caleb Folan as well as midfielder Glenn Whelan and goalkeeper Shay Given have all been struggling with knocks but are expected to recover in time for Saturday's match.
Trapattoni is definitely without Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson, who has a groin strain while Sunderland defender Paul McShane is doubtful.
However, the 70-year-old Italian remains confident that following Ireland's assured performance in last week's 1-1 draw with Nigeria in a friendly, his team can get a result in Bulgaria to keep the pressure on the Azzurri, who still have to play in Dublin.
"Why not? After the game with Nigeria we showed we can play well and with confidence," he said.
"The players have played well in qualifying and they will get stronger. I have confidence in them."(dpa)