Italy extended their unbeaten run to a record-equalling 35 games despite being held to a disappointing 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in Florence on Thursday.
The Azzurri, who last lost a game in September 2018, matched the European mark set by Spain despite being far from their best in the Group C clash – their first outing since overcoming England on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.
Federico Chiesa gave Roberto Mancini’s men the lead with a powerful finish in the 16th minute, but Atanas Iliev restored parity before half-time.
Although Italy were unable to find a winner and maintain their 100 per cent start in Group C, they can still make history by avoiding defeat away to Switzerland in their next qualifier on Sunday.
Lorenzo Insigne had a great chance to open the scoring in the 12th minute but, after being played in by a fortunate ricochet, he was unable to guide his shot past Georgi Georgiev.
After Kiril Despodov missed the target with Bulgaria’s first decent effort, Chiesa dribbled in off the right and lashed an excellent drive into the bottom-right corner to put Italy in front.
Georgiev did well to keep out a powerful attempt from Ciro Immobile and Bulgaria surprisingly equalised in the 39th minute when Iliev got in front of Francesco Acerbi to turn home Despodov’s pass.
Insigne failed to take another good opening before half-time, while Immobile rounded Georgiev but was unable to convert from a tight angle three minutes after the restart.
Italy were back on top but a strong hand from Georgiev stopped Chiesa clipping home a second after spinning away from his marker in the 62nd minute.
The Bulgaria keeper made another fine stop to thwart Immobile from close range and the Azzurri had to settle for a point.
What does it mean? History on Italy’s side
Italy will of course be keen to make it 36 games unbeaten against Switzerland at the weekend. Not only would it be a new European best, it would equal the world record set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.
History suggests a loss in Switzerland would not have to be a bad thing, though. Spain’s 35-game streak came to an end against the United States in 2009, less than a year before they lifted the World Cup for the first time in their history.
Jorginho is considered a serious contender for the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy last season. His display was of the quality you would expect from such a player, with the midfielder creating four chances while 89 of his 125 total successful passes took place in the opposition half.
Italy would have been comfortably out of sight midway through the second half had it not been for Georgiev. The Bulgaria keeper made seven saves in total, with the pick of the bunch coming from second-half efforts courtesy of Chiesa and Immobile.
Italy’s historic night could come against Switzerland in Basel on Sunday, while Bulgaria will be hoping to score their first Group C win against Lithuania.