What was a tricky night for Italy became a little more straightforward when Andrea Belotti converted a first-half penalty, and a gorgeous finish from Manuel Locatelli late on secured the three points.
Gli Azzurri didn’t have things all their own way. Much like they had in the second half against Northern Ireland on Thursday, they found themselves frustrated at times.
Chances were few and far between, and it took a soft penalty to be given in their favour when Belotti went to ground for them to get themselves in front. The Torino forward himself stepped up and emphatically fired into the bottom corner, executing his spot kick to perfection and allowing Italy to breathe a sigh of relief.
The strike, incidentally, was Il Gallo’s ninth away from home for his country, meaning that only Silvio Piola, Gigi Riva (both 13), and Giuseppe Meazza (12) have scored more, excluding games played on neutral ground.
Bulgaria wanted a penalty of their own in the second half. Birsent Karagaren’s cutback from the byline struck Stefano Sensi’s arm as he was sliding in attempting to make a block but, as are the current laws around handball, nothing was given despite the hosts’ protestations.
As was becoming the theme of the night, Italy then wanted another penalty when Belotti tumbled in the area again, but his appeals were waved away.
Belotti’s one-man mission against Bulgaria continued and he could and should have had a second. A quick freekick from inside Italy’s own half set the No.9 in on goal, but his clever lobbed effort came back off the post. Getting there first, he tried to rifle in the rebound when more composure might have served him better, and his second attempt went way off target.
Substitute Manuel Locatelli made it 2-0 with a fine finish in the last ten minutes. Lorenzo Insigne laid off for the Sassuolo midfielder, and just as teammate Domenico Berardi had against Northern Ireland, he finished excellently.
Ciro Immobile should have made it three in the dying minutes, but he fluffed his lines when through on goal, and later had another shot turned over.