SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A perfect 10 wins in 10 matches in European Championship qualifying and now two for two in World Cup qualifying.
Italy has clearly bounced back from its devastating failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The Azzurri won 2-0 in Bulgaria on Sunday with goals from Andrea Belotti and Manuel Locatelli to follow up on a victory over Northern Ireland three days earlier.
The Azzurri, who have also qualified for the Nations League final four, extended their unbeaten streak overall to 24 games.
Italy moved atop Group C, ahead of Switzerland on goal difference.
Switzerland beat visiting Lithuania 1-0 with an early goal from Liverpool winger Xherdan Shaqiri.
The start of the Switzerland-Lithuania game was delayed, apparently because one of the goals was not regulation size.
Belotti earned a first-half penalty following what appeared to be a light foul from Daniel Dimov after a throughball from Lorenzo Insigne.
Belotti then blasted the spot kick inside the left past, beyond the reach of Plamen Iliev, even though the goalkeeper lunged in the right direction.
Belotti tested positive for the coronavirus in February on the same day that his daughter, Vittoria, was born.
He celebrated the goal by making a “V” with his fingers for his daughter’s name.
“The celebration was for my daughter,” Belotti said. “I didn’t get to meet her for two weeks.”
Italy protested for another penalty in the second half after more — harder — contact with Belotti but the referee signaled to play on.
Belotti then hit the post after lobbing over the goalkeeper, and fired over the rebound over the bar.
Locatelli, a second-half substitute, curled in a shot after a well-worked team move that began with a backheel pass from Marco Verratti. It was the 23-year-old Locatelli’s first national team goal.
It marked Italy’s first win in Bulgaria on its fifth attempt, following three draws and a loss.
“All games are very difficult, especially when you play squads like Bulgaria which put everyone behind the ball and rely on counterattacks,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said.
Bulgaria and Lithuania remained without any points.
On Wednesday, Italy visits Lithuania and Northern Ireland hosts Bulgaria.
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