Italy were far from at their best against Bulgaria on Sunday, but Roberto Mancini did not expect anything different from his side.
Mancini’s unbeaten run as Italy boss was extended to 24 games – one shy of Marcello Lippi’s longest streak and just six off the all-time record, set by Vittorio Pozzo in the 1930s – as goals from Andrea Belotti and Manuel Locatelli sealed a 2-0 win in World Cup qualifying.
The victory took Italy, who beat Northern Ireland in their opening fixture, level on points with Switzerland at the top of Group C.
A much-changed Italy team dominated possession (67.6 per cent), and had 22 attempts, albeit 12 of these were blocked and only six were on target.
Indeed, the tight nature of the game is reflected by the fact that Federico Bernardeschi – who came on as a 76th-minute substitute – registered a game-high three chances, having entered the fray when the match was more of an open contest.
6 – Italian National Team have kept six clean sheet in a row away from home, their longest such run in history (overtaking previous record established under Ferruccio Valcareggi between 1972 and 1974). Insuperable.#BULITA #BulgariaItalia pic.twitter.com/ponSooIRBc
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 28, 2021
It was 1-0 at that stage, with Belotti’s first-half penalty having opened the scoring. Locatelli was then on hand to curl in his first Italy goal – four of the last seven goals scored by the Azzurri have now been netted by Sassuolo players – and put the result beyond all doubt.
While they may have faulted at times in attack, Italy were rock solid in defence, keeping a sixth straight clean sheet on the road, which is their longest run.
In no mood to pick fault with his side, Mancini told RAI Sport: “All games are difficult, especially against teams like Bulgaria who put everyone behind the ball and just wait for the counter-attack.
“Until you find the breakthrough, there are no spaces and it makes life difficult.
“We are at a moment of the season where the players are a little tired. We didn’t allow a single chance in the first half, and we only did in the second after we wasted numerous opportunities to extend our lead.
“As I said, there is no such thing as an easy match. The other teams don’t give you space and instead just try to neutralise you. Until you get the opening goal, that’s at a deadlock.
“I still think we put in a very good performance in the circumstances. We tried after the second goal tonight to score a third, which is what we should’ve done against Northern Ireland.
“I don’t see other sides winning 7-0 or 8-0 either this week. We know goal difference is important, but the points mean even more and we hope to beat Switzerland.”
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