Italy kicked off its 2022 FIFA World Cup European qualifying campaign with a commanding 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland at the Stadio Ennio Tardini in Parma.

The Azzurri put on a show in the first half that set the tone for the rest of the game as the difference in quality of both the sides was immediately evident.

An early goal from Domenico Berardi knocked the wind out of the Irish sails in the 14th minute. Ciro Immobile made it 2-0 in the 38th minute that allowed Roberto Mancini some breathing space going into the second half and make changes.

Northern Ireland responded strongly after the break and went close through Gavin Whyte and former Manchester United defender Paddy McNair.

Ian Baraclough’s men face Bulgaria at home in their next qualifier, which will be a tricky game on Wednesday night at Belfast’s Windsor Park.

Having replaced Michael O’Neill last year, the former Northern Irish Under-21 boss is still without a win after nine matches in charge of the senior side.

This was always going to be a difficult match for the Irish who were winless in 8 matches prior to this while the Italians on the other hand, are now unbeaten in 23 matches since Roberto Mancini took over as head coach in 2018!

The 4-time World Cup champions have still never lost a home World Cup qualifier, with Thursday’s win adding to the 10 out of 10 victories they secured in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Nicolo Barella Italy

Barella opened the scoring for the Azzurri. (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

With Switzerland beating Bulgaria 3-1 earlier in the day’s other Group C match, next Wednesday’s encounter at Windsor Park will be more important for Northern Ireland to stay in touch and keep their hopes alive as they bid to reach the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986.

Northern Ireland looked energetic while keeping a solid shape in what was a promising opening 10 minutes, but the Italians found their rhythm and produced a dominant display of world-class football that the Northern Irish were unable to deal with.

It looked bleak for Northern Ireland at the break, with Mancini’s side looking threatening throughout, but the Irish regrouped at the interval and were much better in the second half.

However, the 2-goal margin was more than sufficient for the defensive masters Italy who shut shop and secured the 3 points in Group C.

Group C features Switzerland, Bulgaria and Lithuania apart from Northern Ireland and Italy. The Swiss came out on top of Bulgaria by winning 3-1 and Lithuania are still to play.

Bulgaria are next on the cards for Italy as they will travel to Sofia before heading to Vilnius in Lithuania to finish off their first 3 qualifying games. Expect Italy to win both these games and stay on top of Group C.

Switzerland will be the Azzurri’s biggest threat and expect that one to be an entertaining affair. Italy have to be regarded as one of the favourites going into this year’s European Championship¬†and next year’s FIFA World Cup.