Italy equal unbeaten international record with Bulgaria draw
Azzurri drop points in first game as European champions
Italy played out a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria in their FIFA World Cup qualifying Group C match at the Artemio Franchi to equal the record for the longest unbeaten run by a national team held by Spain and Brazil.
In their first match since emerging victorious at Euro 2020, Italy were facing Bulgaria in a bid to keep up with their 100% record in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Missing captain Giorgio Chiellini and right back Giovanni Di Lorenzo from the side that started the Euro 2020 final at Wembley, Italy manager Roberto Mancini started with Francesco Acerbi and Alessandro Florenzi as part of his defensive lineup.
Italy started the match as they intended to go on, dominating possession of the ball and playing around their opponents from Bulgaria. The European champions put their impressive start to good use as exciting Juventus winger Federico Chiesa opened the scoring after only 16 minutes. Chiesa drove in from the left flank before playing a pass into the feet of striker Ciro Immobile and continuing his run for a return ball. Chiesa got his return ball thanks to an inadvertent touch from a Bulgarian defender and rammed home a left-footed strike into the far corner to continue from where he left off for the national team.
Bulgaria continued to withstand pressure from Italy as they patiently waited for a chance to strike. The away side finally got their reward five minutes from the end of the first half. Kiril Despodov shrugged off Italy defender Florenzi before playing a ball into the box for Atanas Iliev to finish low past Paris Saint Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Italy continued to press forward against Bulgaria and almost scored on a number of occasions. Chiesa came closest to scoring a second for Italy as his chip was brilliantly saved by Bulgaria goalkeeper Georgi Georgiev in the 61st minute. Bulgaria held out to pick up a point against the European champions.
Italy have equalled the record 35-match unbeaten run that was set by Brazil in 1993-1996 and Spain in 2007-2009. The Azzurri need to draw or win their next match against Switzerland in Basel on Sunday to create a new record unbeaten run in international football. They have 10 points from four matches and sit on top of Group C.