Italy sit atop Group B in UEFA World Cup qualifying, but just barely. Their 2-2 draw with Bulgaria leaves the two sides both on four points, and their 2-0 win over Malta didn't do much to inspire confidence in the Azzurri. Malta, coached by an Italian themselves, defended well and marked Andrea Pirlo out of the match. Without their playmaker, Cesare Prandelli's side were out of ideas, leaving one to wonder: how far can the Euro runners-up go along this road to Brazil?
Next up, Armenia, who also secured three points by beating Malta before being beaten 1-0 by Bulgaria. The Armenians haven't done much thus far in qualifying, with nearly all their chances coming in the second half against Malta. Bulgaria shut them down after their goal, forcing Armenia to take desperate measures, which only resulted in red cards for attackers Marcos Pizzelli and Gevorg Ghazaryan. In addition to the reds, Armenia have already picked up five yellows in their two matches, so this could be a crunching match.
And, let's face it, it's almost certain that should Pirlo play, Armenia's main task will be not to score goals, but to render him invisible. Perhaps, then, it's time for Prandelli to give the veteran a break -- and use, say, young Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti? But the Azzurri coach tends to go tried and true, and so it's almost certain we'll see Pirlo as the man this squad is built around.
As for Armenia, as noted, they'll be without a few of their players that have temper issues. They've also got to deal with the loss of captain Sargis Hovsepyan, who has retired from international football at age 39, after 131 caps. But coach Vardan Minasyan has assured the fans that Artur Sarkisov, scorer of the only goal thus far in qualifying, has recovered from injury and is available. The Armenians also look to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, current top scorer in the Ukrainian Premier League.
Match date/time: Friday, 9 p.m. local, 1 p.m. ET
Venue: Hrazdan Stadium, Yerevan, Armenia
TV: Armenia 1 TV, RAI Uno
Online: ESPN3 (U.S.)