Italy equal European unbeaten record against Bulgaria
FLORENCE, Italy, Sep 2 (Reuters) – Italy beat 35 unbeaten games to equal the European record set by Spain, but were ultimately disappointed as they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw against the Bulgaria in their World Cup qualifying match in Group C on Thursday.
In his first game since winning the European Championship in July, Federico Chiesa wasted no time putting Italy ahead, scoring a fine final with 16 minutes on the clock.
Atanas Iliev equalized against the run of play five minutes before the break, however, Italy’s first goal so far conceded in their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Traffic was one-way in the second half as the home side set off in search of a winner but apart from Ciro Immobile’s effort at a tight angle that was cleared from the line, Roberto’s side Mancini didn’t seem to score again.
Italy remained in a good position to reach next year’s World Cup in Qatar, leading the group with 10 points from four games, four points ahead of second-placed Switzerland despite having played two more games.
“We had opportunities to win, we were too hasty and a bit wasted in possession,” Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci told Rai Sport. “We wanted to celebrate the new start with a victory in front of our fans.”
Fifty-three days after their Euro 2020 triumph over England, Italy started with nine of the players who entered the pitch on that famous night at Wembley and showed no signs of slacking off against the Bulgaria as Chiesa stroked them in front from the start.
The livewire forward played a neat one-two with Immobile before finding the bottom corner, and Italy remained in the ascendant.
The Azzurri looked set to match Spain’s 2007-2009 record in style, with only Brazil between 1993-1996 having a longer, 36-game unbeaten streak, but Iliev silenced the crowd. with Bulgaria’s only real attack at half-time.
An attack in the second half was expected from the European champions but it never came. They had 27 shots in total, but couldn’t create that killing chance as the visitors dug for a well-earned point.
Italy will face Switzerland on Sunday in Basel, while Bulgaria will host Lithuania.
“We came here, the first game after the European Championship, and you want to win it, but I can’t say anything bad about the performance, just to be more clinical in front of goal,” said Mancini.
“We would have preferred to reach the 35 with a victory, but now the most important thing is to recover our strength for Sunday, which is now an important game.”
Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond
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