Italy beats Bulgaria 1-0 to move top of qualifying group

PALERMO, Sicily (AP) Italy moved a step closer to qualifying for the 2016 European Championship after beating Bulgaria 1-0 to go top of Group H, while Norway beat Croatia 2-0 to leapfrog into second place on Sunday.

Daniele de Rossi scored with a re-taken penalty in the sixth minute for Italy after Veselin Minev had tripped Antonio Candreva. De Rossi went from hero to villain when he was sent off in the second half, along with Bulgaria forward Iliyan Mitsanski, after both committed fouls in retaliation.

Italy has 18 points, two more than Norway. Croatia is a point further back but also likely to lose a point for fan trouble pending an appeal.

Bulgaria has eight points, while Azerbaijan has six and Malta two following a 2-2 draw.

Jo Inge Berget scored the first for Norway six minutes after the interval and had a shot deflected in by the unfortunate Vedran Corluka for the second, in the 69th minute.

The top two finishers from the nine groups qualify automatically for next year's tournament in France. The best third-place team also qualifies automatically, and the other eight third-place finishers go into a playoff.

Italy had come in for criticism following Thursday's dull 1-0 win over Malta and coach Antonio Conte rung the changes, bringing in Stephan El Shaarawy, Candreva and De Rossi, and dropping Andrea Pirlo to the bench.

El Shaarawy wasn't even on the bench against Malta. But he almost had an instant impact when, within 50 seconds of kickoff, he sent a bicycle kick over the bar after Graziano Pelle had forced a desperate save.

It didn't take long for Italy to score although De Rossi had to take his penalty again due to encroachment. The Roma midfielder coolly slotted his spot-kick into the bottom right corner both times, despite Bulgaria goalkeeper Bozhidar Mitrev guessing the correct way the second time.

De Rossi had scored on his Italy debut at the same stadium.

Italy was fired up and went close several times although it was almost caught out in the 19th minute and Gianluigi Buffon - making his 150th appearance for his country - needed to make a smart save to turn Mitsanski's effort around his right post.

The match turned bad tempered 10 minutes after the interval when Mitsanski lightly stamped on De Rossi, who reacted by kicking up at him from the ground.

Both players were shown red cards.

Italy continued to squander chances and was almost made to pay for its profligacy but Buffon was again alert to parry Georgi Milanov's powerful shot in stoppage time.