Italy beat Bulgaria 2-0 in Sofia to make it two wins in as many games in their ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. Two goals in each half ensured the visitors walked away with all three points from the Bulgarian capital.
Andrea Belotti scored the ninth away goal of his international career as he converted a penalty on the brink of half-time. Substitute midfielder Andrea Locatelli then made it two nil for Italy late on as Bulgaria struggled with less than 32% possession in the game.
Italy were far from their best, but Roberto Mancini’s side are now 24 games unbeaten across all competitions. In the process, the visitors also recorded their fifth-successive clean sheet in competitive outings.
With the win, Italy overtake Switzerland for the top spot in 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualification Group C, On that note, let's take a look at five talking points from the match in Sofia.
#1 Italy survive early Bulgarian pressure
The first few exchanges of the game saw the hosts press Italy's backline with high intensity.
But the Azzurri were able to see throughout that period, as their experienced defence of Leonardo Bonucci, Alessandro Florenzi and Francesco Acerbi didn't let their guard down. Even goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was assured and excellent in his ball distribution.
However, Bulgaria dropped their defensive intensity in the final third. As the game progressed, Yasen Petrov’s side went from a high line to a really low block. That was meant to counter the constant Italian overload, but the move backfired.
Apparently, the only way to keep Italy quiet was to take the game to them by applying pressure high upfield.
Not just in their own half, Roberto Mancini’s men also had the upper hand in the middle of the park. Despite being man-marked by Bulgaria, Italy were able to transition very seamlessly from defence to attack.
#2 Andrea Belotti scores from the spot in Jorginho’s absence
Jorginho’s knee injury meant Stefano Sensi took up the number six role in the Italy midfield. But there was more to the change in the centre of the park than just tactics.
The Chelsea man's absence meant Italy were without their first-choice penalty taker. When Daniel Dimov fouled Andrea Belotti in the box in the 42nd minute, there seemed many interested parties for the spot-kick.
However, Belotti stepped up and slotted the ball past Plamen Iliev to make it 1-0 for the visitors. That was just his second goal in six competitive fixtures.
But the Torino forward, apart from that penalty, had a quiet afternoon but did strike the woodwork late on as Italy looked to end the game as a contest.
However, Belotti had no shot on goal apart from the penalty, and he won only three of his seven duels on the night. With a lot of competition from Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Pellegrini, Belotti needs to step up soon.