It was time for the European Champions Italy to showcase their display in the World Cup Qualifiers, but in a low-key affair, the Azzurri were held by the Bulgarians. Yes, Italy’s unbeaten run under Roberto Mancini has been intact because they shared points whereas a straightforward victory was expected.

Almost 14,000 fans were present for the Group C clash at the half-capacity Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence to welcome back their heroes of a heady sporting summer for Italians, who also witnessed unprecedented track and field results at the Tokyo Olympics.

The atmosphere was perfect for a football match where Azzurri would shine –   The fans chanted “we are the champions of Europe” as the teams got ready to kick off.

They were initially treated to a match which was one-way traffic.

Roberto Mancini picked almost the same line-up as the UEFA Euro 2020 Final, with Alessandro Florenzi and Francesco Acerbi among the new faces. Captain Giorgio Chiellini was rested, so he will be able to start against Switzerland on Sunday.

The mood at Florence was elevated when Federico Chiesa essayed a driving run and exchange of passes with Ciro Immobile and followed that by a drilled left-foot shot which gave Georgiev no chance.

Italy took the lead after fifteen minutes and more goals were expected to come.

The Azzurri seemed in control of the game, Ciro Immobile had a good chance from inside the box, but Bulgarian goalkeeper Georgiev made the first of many saves with Chiesa, who arrived too early to steer the ball into the net. With just five minutes before the break, Bulgaria levelled the scores with their first shot on target.

Kiril Despodov found it very easy to dribble past Florenzi on the left flank, put the ball in and find Atanas Iliev, who cut in front of Acerbi to score an unexpected equalizer.

Italy dominated the second half, creating several opportunities to score. Immobile rounded Georgiev, but all he could get was a corner kick as he carried the ball wide and could only try to go for the goal from a tight angle.

Nicolo Barella collected another corner kick with a deflected shot from the edge of the box. Georgiev produced the save of the night on Federico Chiesa, who tried to score with a chip shot, but the Bulgarian goalkeeper showed cat-like reflexes. He denied Immobile once again before Giacomo Raspadori replaced the Lazio striker.

Italy pushed forward to score the winner, but Bulgaria didn’t let the Azzurri find a way through.

The Azzurri are now unbeaten in 35 games and have equalled Spain and Brazil’s record.


The Italians are on top of Group C with 10 points from four games, four points above Switzerland, who have only played twice.


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