First-Time Win in Bulgaria Gives Italy Lead in World Cup Qualifiers

Compared with their dominating exploits from a few months ago, Roberto Mancini’s Italy are surely less brilliant these days. However, their efforts were enough to pull off three more points on their way to Qatar as the Azzurri beat Bulgaria 2-0 in their second World Cup 2022 Qualifiers test on Sunday night.

A penalty from Andrea Belotti and a spectacular Manuel Locatelli curl got the job done for Mancini who also had to mind about preserving his boys’ forces in view of the next game against Lithuania. On that note, Italy got the maximum result with the minimum effort, extending their clean sheet duration to 472 minutes and managing to win in Bulgaria for the first time in their history.

Roberto Mancini made six changes versus his winning debut against Northern Ireland. His most audacious move was deploying Stefano Sensi from the start – Inter’s injury-prone midfielder having tallied only 20 minutes of play in 2021 so far. Andrea Belotti took over from Ciro Immobile in the central striker position, with Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne supporting him from the sides.

There were a few Italian acquaintances in Yasen Petrov’s Bulgarian lineup, which featured Bologna’s center back Valentin Antov and Spezia striker Andrey Galabinov.

Italy’s ball possession was the leit motiv of the first half. The Azzurri pegged Bulgaria into their own half and pushed from the left-hand side with Leonardo Spinazzola but the Balkans contained their assault without struggling too much. Bulgaria seemed to be happy with leaving the initiative to the Azzurri and hoping to pierce them on the counter – though Italy left no chance for that.

And so, it was a single episode to turn the match in the Azzurri‘s favor. On 40 minutes, Andrea Belotti dashed past Daniel Dimov and prompted the Bulgarian center back to push him down in the box. Referee Slavko Vincic pointed to the spot with no hesitation, but the penalty looked generous to say the least.

Il Gallo‘s execution was perfect, goalkeeper Plamen Iliev dove to the right direction but Belotti’s shot was clinical to hit the bottom right corner of the goal.

The trend didn’t change after the restart, despite Mancini redesigning his lineup with multiple substitutions. On 67 minutes, Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Manuel Locatelli took the place of Alessandro Florenzi and Stefano Sensi. Then, it was time for Ciro Immobile and Federico Bernardeschi to join the game. They replaced Belotti and Chiesa.

Just before being substituted, Andrea Belotti should have had his second but his beautiful lob shot from a Marco Verratti cross hit the post. Italy made it two, however, in the 82nd minute as Locatelli drove the ball past Plamen Iliev with a brilliant right-foot effort – courtesy of a Lorenzo Insigne suggestion.

Verratti soon left room to Matteo Pessina as Mancini started to plan for the next game against Lithuania. The second goal boosted Italy’s confidence and the Azzurri went close to round up the scoring further but Ciro Immobile saw his shots denied twice by the goalkeeper.

Italy closed in attack and perhaps could have added one more to their tally but – with Switzerland beating Lithuania 1-0 – their goal difference versus the Swiss, who also collected six points in two games, is already in their favor.



March 28, 2021 – World Cup 2022 Qualifiers Group C

SCORERS: 43′ Belotti pen., 82′ Locatelli

BULGARIA (3-5-2): P. Iliev; Dimov, Bozhikov, Antov; Vitanov (89′ Raynov), Kostadinov (61′ Malinov), Tsetanov, Chochev, Cicinho (46′ Karagaren); Delev (79′ A. Iliev), Galabinov (Karadzhov, Naumov, Hristov, D. Ilied, I. Iliev, Vutov, Yomov, Zanvev) Coach: Petrov
ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Florenzi (66′ Di Lorenzo), Bonucci, Acerbi, Spinazzola; Barella, Sensi (66′ Locatelli), Verratti (88′ Pessina); Chiesa (74′ Bernardeschi), Belott (74′ Immobile), Insigne (Meret, Sirigu, Bastoni, Grifo, G. Mancini, Emerson, Pellegrini) Coach: R. Mancini

REFEREE: Vincic (Slovenia)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Bozhikov, Kostadinov (B), Locatelli, Bernardeschi (I)