Andrea Belotti was on target and Manuel Locatelli netted his first international goal as Italy continued their perfect start to World Cup qualifying with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria.
Roberto Mancini’s men dispatched Northern Ireland 2-0 in their Group C opener on Thursday and joined Switzerland on six points with a routine victory from a rather stale contest in Sofia.
Belotti, who scored on his last Italy appearance in November, put them ahead – his penalty breaking the deadlock in the 43rd minute.
Italy’s number nine missed two chances to put the result beyond all doubt but, with Bulgaria hardly offering a threat going the other way, Locatelli’s superb finish wrapped up the points late on.
Federico Chiesa snatched at the only opening of a cagey opening half-an-hour, the Juventus winger flashing wide after latching onto Marco Verratti’s pass.
Despite failing to register a shot on target, Italy got a chance to go ahead when Belotti was bundled over in the 42nd minute.
Taking the penalty he won, the Torino striker made no mistake, planting a firm finish into the bottom-left corner.
Bulgaria were furious not to be awarded a penalty of their own 11 minutes after the restart, with their appeals for a handball from Stefano Sensi dismissed.
Gianluigi Donnarumma had to make a superb save in the same move, though Birsent Karagaren was subsequently flagged offside.
Belotti twice went close as Italy pressed to settle the contest, hitting the post with a deft lob before lashing over on the rebound.
Yet there was little chance Italy would be left to rue Belotti’s profligacy, and any lingering Bulgaria hopes were dashed when Locatelli curled in his maiden Azzurri goal.
What does it mean? Azzurri’s strength in depth on show
There were six changes made by Mancini compared to the team that started against Norther Ireland, and though Italy looked somewhat dysfunctional at times in the first half, they were always likely to grind Bulgaria down.
Then, Mancini was able to turn to his bench – Locatelli scoring (four of the last seven Italy goals have now been netted by Sassuolo players) and star forward Ciro Immobile drawing a brilliant late save out of Plamen Iliev. Such strength in depth bodes well not just for Italy’s fortunes in Group C, but of course the upcoming Euros.
Belotti’s road trip rolls on
Belotti’s penalty took him onto nine away goals for Italy. Excluding games played in a neutral venue, only Silvio Piola, Gigi Riva (both 13) and Giuseppe Meazza (12) have netted more times on the road for the Azzurri.
Dimov’s decision the difference
Bulgaria centre-back Daniel Dimov was the player who committed the needless foul on Belotti which led to Italy’s opener, and the striker would have been hard pressed to get a shot off from such a position. It was one of three fouls Dimov conceded, while he completed just one successful tackle.
Lithuania are up next for Italy on Wednesday, while Bulgaria’s third Group C outing sees them take on Northern Ireland.
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