Italy extends perfect qualifying streak with win in Bulgaria

SOFIA, Bulgaria — 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, three points ahead of Switzerland, which was still playing Lithuania.

The start of the Switzerland-Lithuania game was delayed, apparently because one of the goals was not high enough.

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.

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.

Bulgaria remained without any points after losing its opener to Switzerland.

On Wednesday, Italy visits Lithuania and Bulgaria visits Northern Ireland.

More AP soccer: and