Italy Equals European Unbeaten Record After Bulgaria Draw
Italy made it 35 games unbeaten to equal the European record run set by Spain but were ultimately disappointed as they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in their World Cup Group C qualifier at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence, Italy.
In their first match since winning the European Championship in July, Italy started with nine of the players who took to the field on that famous night at Wembley and showed no sign of letting up against Bulgaria as they took an early lead in the 16th minute.
Federico Chiesa fired in a shot into the bottom corner of the net after a neat one-two play with striker Ciro Immobile.
The Azzurri looked on course to equal the record set by Spain from 2007-09 in style, with only Brazil between 1993-96 having a longer unbeaten run, of 36 games, but Iliev silenced the crowd with Bulgaria’s only real attack of the half.
Atanas Iliev struck an equaliser against the run of play five minutes before the break. It was the first goal Italy had conceded in their World Cup qualifying campaign to date.
A second-half onslaught was expected from the European champions but it never came. The home side went in search of a winner but, apart from Ciro Immobile’s effort from a tight angle that was cleared off the line, Roberto Mancini’s side did not look like scoring again.
Italy had 27 shots in total, but could not create that killer chance as the visitors dug in for a well-earned point.
Italy remained in a strong position to reach next year’s World Cup in Qatar, sitting top of the group on 10 points from four matches, four points clear of Switzerland in second, albeit having played two games more.
“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,” Italy coach Mancini said.
“We would have preferred to reach 35 with a win, but now the most important thing is to recover our strength for Sunday, which is now an important game.”
Italy face Switzerland on Sunday in Basel, while Bulgaria host Lithuania.
UEFA World Cup Qualifier results
Georgia 0-1 Kosovo
Sweden 2-1 Spain
Italy 1-1 Bulgaria
Lithuania 1-4 Northern Ireland
Czech Republic 1-0 Belarus
Estonia 2-5 Belgium
Andorra 2-0 San Marino
Hungary 0-4 England
Poland 4-1 Albania
Iceland 0-2 Romania
Liechtenstein 0-2 Germany
North Macedonia 0-0 Armenia