28.03.2015 23:24 h

Eder saves Azzurri blushes in Bulgaria draw

Italy debutant Eder came off the bench to save Azzurri blushes with a late equaliser in a rain-lashed 2-2 Euro 2016 qualifying draw with Bulgaria in Sofia on Saturday.

Controversy surrounded Brazil-born Sampdoria forward Eder and Argentinian-born Franco Vazquez, who plays for Palermo, last week when they were called into Italy's national team for the first time.

Their call-ups sparked an age-old debate about the role of 'oriundi' -- players born outside Italy to families who originally emigrated from the country.

However Eder, at least, is likely to have won over any doubters after coming off the bench on the hour mark and hitting a superb equaliser six minutes from time to grab a share of the points at the Vasil Levski stadium.

"It's an amazing feeling," Eder told Rai Sport. "(Coach Antonio) Conte had faith in me and I've scored a goal wearing an important jersey. I hope I'll go on to be given other chances."

Italy remain unbeaten in qualifying Group H but, having settled for a second draw in five games, Conte's men are now two points behind leaders Croatia, and only two ahead of Norway, in third.

Despite Italy never having won in Sofia, Conte was far from satisfied.

"I'm sorry, about the performance and also about the number of chances we created," he said.

"It's not easy to win here but we deserved to. Our return was minimal for what we put in."

Italy travelled to Sofia without Juventus midfield pair Andrea Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio, the latter ruled out with a knee injury on Friday that will also sideline him for a friendly against England in Turin on Tuesday.

However the Azzurri suffered a late, and arguably more painful, blow when number one goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was ruled out and replaced by Salvatore Sirigu of Paris Saint-Germain.

Italy brushed off the setbacks and enjoyed a bright start under torrential rain.

They should have had ball in the net in the opening minute only for striker Ciro Immobile to fire wide after pouncing on a long ball that Bulgaria's defence completely missed.

The Azzurri were soon given reason to celebrate when Bulgaria 'keeper Nikolay Mihaylov made a mess of a cross from the left to palm the ball off Yordan Minev as he tried to mark Simone Zaza.

The ball bounced off the defender's chest and into the net to give Italy a fourth-minute lead.

Mihaylov was forced into action again to palm away a powerful free-kick from Antonio Candreva after Immobile had been fouled on the edge of the area.

However, Bulgaria fought back and hit the net twice in the space of six minutes to turn the game on its head.

When Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci stepped off Ivelin Popov, it gave the Bulgaria playmaker time to unleash an angled drive that left Sirigu clutching at thin air on 11 minutes.

Sirigu was left similarly helpless six minutes later when Zaza lost possession cheaply in midfield, prompting a counter-attack that saw Popov set up Georgi Milanov on the right and Ilian Micanski provide the finishing touch with a great header.

Italy spurned a number of great chances to level, but finally made the difference in the 84th minute when Eder, a replacement for Zaza just before the hour, produced a brilliant individual effort.

The Sampdoria forward took possession on the edge of the area and turned his marker before firing a curling shot beyond Bulgaria's defence and past a rooted Mihaylov.