Not the ideal homecoming for Italy

Marksman: Atanas Iliev, left, scored Bulgaria’s equaliser against Italy.   | Photo Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI

Italy came back down to earth in its first game as European champion. Less than two months after winning the Euro at Wembley, it was held to a 1-1 draw in Group C by Bulgaria in a World Cup Qualifier on Thursday.

That ended Italy’s perfect start to the qualifying campaign but nevertheless matched Spain’s record run of 35 matches unbeaten, set between 2007 and 2009.

Spain lost 1-2 away to Sweden to drop to second place in Group B, while England and Belgium earned big wins to consolidate their lead at the top of their groups.

Federico Chiesa gave Italy the lead after a dominant start but the Azzurri conceded their first goal in the qualifiers when Atanas Iliev levelled at the end of the first-half. Some great stops by Bulgaria goalkeeper Georgi Georgiev prevented Italy from restoring its lead.

Only the group winners directly qualify. Second-place finishers face a playoff.

Carlos Soler scored five minutes into his debut for Spain, but Aleksander Isak levelled seconds later. Viktor Claesson put Sweden ahead for good in the 57th. Only some desperate defending by Spain denied Isak a chance to add another goal on the counter-attack.

Sweden has a perfect nine points from three games, while Spain fell to second with seven from four games.

Kosovo moved to third after beating Georgia 1-0 while Lithuania is at the bottom.

Lukaku’s double

In Group E, Romelu Lukaku scored twice as top-ranked Belgium came from a goal deficit to beat Estonia 5-2 and stay on top. Estonia midfielder Mattias Kait put the host ahead in the second minute but the heavily favoured Red Devils were quick to turn things around.

With 10 points from four games, Belgium retained a three-point lead in the group ahead of the Czech Republic, which defeated Belarus 1-0.

England weathered a hostile atmosphere to beat Hungary 4-0 in Group I . Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored in a 14-minute flurry and Declan Rice added a second-half goal as England secured a fourth straight win to extend its lead to five points.

Poland is second after beating Albania 4-1.

Germany in second

In Group J, Germany downed Liechtenstein 2-0 to move into second, a point behind surprise leader Armenia.

Goals in each half from Timo Werner and Leroy Sané helped Germany to a labored win in its first match under new coach Hansi Flick.

Armenia dropped its first points of the campaign with a 0-0 draw against North Macedonia, which remained third. It is three points behind Armenia and a point above Romania after it won 2-0 in Iceland.

The results: Group B: Georgia 0 lost to Kosovo 1 (Muriqi 18); Sweden 2 (Isak 6, Claesson 57) bt Spain 1 (Soler 5).

Group C: Lithuania 1 (Baravykas 55) lost to Northern Ireland 4 (Ballard 20, Washington 52-pen, Lavery 67, McNair 82-pen); Italy 1 (Chiesa 16) drew with Bulgaria 1 (A. Iliev 40).

Group E: Estonia 2 (Kait 2, Sorga 83) lost to Belgium 5 (Vanaken 22, Lukaku 29, 52, Witsel 65, Foket 76); Czech Republic 1 (Barak 34) bt Belarus 0.

Group I: Andorra 2 (Vales 18, 24) bt San Marino 0; Hungary 0 lost to England 4 (Sterling 55, Kane 63, Maguire 69, Rice 87); Poland 4 (Lewandowski 12, Buksa 44, Krychowiak 54, Linetty 89) bt Albania 1 (Cikalleshi 25).

Group J: Liechtenstein 0 lost to Germany 2 (Werner 41, Sane 77); North Macedonia 0 drew with Armenia 0; Iceland 0 lost to Romania 2 (Man 47, Stanciu 83).

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 5:47:11 PM |

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