SOFIA – Italy kept their World Cup qualifying campaign on track with a 2-0 Group C win over Bulgaria who fell to their second consecutive defeat on Sunday (March 28).
Andrea Belotti got the first goal from the penalty spot just before the break with Manuel Locatelli sealing the win with his first ‘Azzurri’ goal with eight minutes to go.
Roberto Mancini’s side had won their opener 2-0 against Northern Ireland in Parma on Thursday with Bulgaria losing 3-1 at home against Switzerland.
The four-time world champions missed out on the finals in 2018, but under Mancini extended their unbeaten run to 24 games, after their perfect Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Italy were without defender Giorgio Chiellini with forwards Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo also ruled out.
Torino captain Belotti started up front alongside Juventus forward Federico Chiesa.
Despite Italy dominating early against the 1994 World Cup semi-finalists, the visitors were pegged back by the Bulgarians.
Yasen Petrov’s home side provided tougher opposition than the one that conceded three goals in the first quarter of an hour against the Swiss.
Chiesa and Belotti were both unable to connect with crosses from Leonardo Spinazzola and Alessandro Florenzi to finish off.
But the breakthrough came when Belotti went down under a Daniel Dimov challenge as he ran to connect with Lorenzo Insigne’s through ball.
Belotti made no mistake for his 11th goal in 32 international appearances.
The Torino forward missed a chance for a second midway through the second half with a lob hitting the post and sending the rebound over.
Locatelli came on for Stefano Sensi after 68 minutes, with Ciro Immobile replacing Belotti and Federico Bernardeschi in for Chiesa for the final quarter of an hour.
Insigne teed up Locatelli to curl in the second with eight minutes to go with Immobile missing chances to add to his tally late in the game.
Italy claimed their first win in Bulgaria on their seventh attempt.
Mancini extended his unbeaten run with Italy to 24 consecutive games, just behind former World Cup winning coaches Marcello Lippi (25) and Vittorio Pozzo (30).
Italy next play against Lithuania in Vilnius on Wednesday.
Bulgaria, who have not qualified for the World Cup since 1998, travel to Northern Ireland.