Italy successfully agreed on a schedule for the qualifying campaign of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with their Group 8 opponents in Bulgaria today.
The world champions will begin and end their campaign against minnows Cyprus. They travel to the island on September 6 before playing host to Georgia four days later and coach Roberto Donadoni was delighted with his fixture list when he emerged from the meeting in Sofia that lasted just under two hours.
"I am very happy with our lot," he told Gazzetta dello Sport, while the President of the Italian Football Federation Giancarlo Abete added: "Our proposals were met."
Donadoni's men travel to Bulgaria on October 11 before welcoming Montenegro four days later. The return match, on March 28, opens 2009 for the Azzurri while April 1 sees one of the toughest matches as they host the Republic of Ireland.
After asking FIFA not to schedule any games for June 2009 because of their involvement in the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, Italy have no qualifiers until September when they play the return fixtures against Georgia and Bulgaria.
They travel to Ireland on October 10 before concluding their campaign against Cyprus at home.
Qualification should be easily within Italy’s grasp, but Donadoni is aware of the potential pitfalls. "It won't be an easy group," he insisted. "Besides Bulgaria, we mustn't underestimate Ireland and especially Montenegro, who have some top players who are plying their trade in top European Leagues.
"Our proposal to play the games in pairs with gaps between each set of two was agreed and now we have a balanced schedule that you cannot fail to be happy with," he concluded.
"We are particularly happy with the welcome and the respect that everyone has shown us," Abete added.
[2010 World Cup qualifying schedule]