Belotti and Locatelli earn Italy win in Bulgaria

© Reuters. World Cup Qualifiers Europe – Group C – Bulgaria v Italy

SOFIA, Bulgaria (Reuters) – Italy’s Andrea Belotti and Manuel Locatelli secured a 2-0 win over Bulgaria on Sunday to make it two wins from two in Group C at the start of their side’s 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Italy struggled to break down the hosts in the first half despite dominating possession but took the lead with a penalty won and converted by Belotti two minutes before the break.

There were few second-half chances but the visitors put the seal on a fifth successive win – without conceding in that run – eight minutes from time thanks to Locatelli’s fine finish.

Italy are top and will aim to continue their 100% start on Wednesday when they travel to Lithuania while Bulgaria, who have now lost their first two matches, visit Northern Ireland next.

“There are no easy games,” said Italy coach Roberto Mancini. “We always think we can win but knowing there are opponents who get everyone behind the ball we have to be careful. The opponent played to not lose and playing away from home is tough too.”

In the group’s other match, Xherdan Shaqiri’s early goal gave Switzerland a 1-0 win over Lithuania to move them level on six points with Italy but trailing on goal difference.

The Italians, looking to build on a 2-0 win over visitors Northern Ireland in their Group C opener last Thursday and stretch their unbeaten run to 24 matches under Mancini, looked laboured in attack early on in Sofia.

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The hosts were easily dealing with Italy before one lunge on Italy’s Torino striker Belotti by Daniel Dimov undid the Bulgarians’ defensive work, giving the visitors the chance to snatch the lead from the spot.

The Azzurri defence, like the Italian backlines of yesteryear, never looked troubled after Belotti’s opener. They have now kept six clean sheets in a row away from home, their longest such run in history.

Sassuolo midfielder Locatelli’s game-clinching strike is one he will remember as his first for his country and for the quality of the finish – a curling strike into the far corner.

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