Lippi: Bulgaria crunch match most important of my reign

Italy coach Marcello Lippi has called tomorrow's World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria the "most important" game since his return to the helm of the Azzurri.

The world champions go into the encounter top of Group Eight with a one-point advantage over Ireland and with a game in hand.

With a trip to Ireland before hosting Cyprus in their final qualifier, the Italians will take a giant step towards next year's event in South Africa if they claim all three points in Turin.

"Tomorrow's game could give us a good chance of qualifying," said Lippi. "It is the most important game for some time for everyone, not only for me since my return to the national team."

Lippi is a World Cup-winning coach but that has not prevented criticism from coming his way.

The manner of Italy's five victories and two draws in their seven games has frustrated some fans and media.

The Azzurri, who have struggled in front of goal in their last four games, needed two own-goals from Kakha Kaladze to earn a 2-0 win at Georgia on Saturday, and were beaten by lowly Egypt in the recent Confederations Cup tournament.

"We take criticism because it is good as long as it is constructive," said Lippi. "But the rest we ignore.

"The fact is that my team has quality not only athletically but technically.

"We're better than the media make out.

"We don't think we have a scoring problem. Good goals and beautiful play will come later.

"In fact, I don't care who scores tomorrow, whether it's again an own goal from a rival defender or (Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi) Buffon with a header.

"The important thing is to win."

Lippi has said Manchester United's Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov can pose a huge threat to his side.

"Berbatov plays in a great team and has proved his quality at Manchester United," he said. "He scores and provides for others to find the net.

"When we faced him in the first leg, we needed the full attention of all of our defenders to stop him."

Lippi believes his side will not underestimate Bulgaria, who are six points behind the Italians in the standings but remain unbeaten after seven games.

"Bulgaria have good quality," said Lippi. "They haven't lost so far and they will try to finish second in the group.

"They are a team we respect."

As for who will play in attack, Lippi has yet to make his mind up.

Giuseppe Rossi and Vincenzo Iaquinta struggled to make much of an impact at Georgia and Lippi could consider playing with an attacking formation, with Pepe, Alberto Gilardino and Iaquinta up front.

"I will wait until the last minute to consider who will play," he said.

The Azzurri will welcome back Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi from suspension while Juventus duo Fabio Grosso and Marco Marchisio are set to be included in the starting XI.

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