Mancini matches Lippi as Italy keep perfect with win in Lithuania

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Stefano Sensi struck after the break with captain Ciro Immobile adding a second from the penalty spot late to maintain Italy's perfect start to their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 Group C win in Lithuania on Wednesday.

The four-time world champions missed out on the World Cup finals in 2018, but made it three wins from three after beating Northern Ireland and Bulgaria, both with a 2-0 scoreline.

And Roberto Mancini extended their unbeaten run to 25 consecutive games to match 2006 World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi's run without defeat.

Both are five short of two-time World Cup winner Vittorio Pozzo's record mark of 30.

"Honestly, the only thing I would like is to match Lippi in December 2022 (in the World Cup)," said Mancini, 56, who took over in May 2018.

"We can be happy to be on top of the group. For us the glass is half full," continued Mancini.

"It's the third match in seven days, even if we rotated the squad we knew it would be difficult.

"We had to take into account the physical condition of the players who were very tired and the (artificial) surface which we knew would be difficult.

"The important thing was to win, even if it's certain that if we had finished off all the chances, we would have suffered less."

Immobile wore the captain's armband for the injury-hit Italians, starting up front alongside Stephan El Shaarawy and Federico Bernardeschi.

Brazil-born defender Rafael Toloi made his Italy debut with Atalanta midfield teammate Matteo Pessina also getting his first start.

Gianluca Mancini, 24, played in defence alongside 21-year-old Alessandro Bastoni.

Despite dominating on the artificial turf in Vilnius the Italians were left frustrated by half-time by the hosts who lost their opener 1-0 against Switzerland.

A series of saves from Lithuania keeper Tomas Svedkauskas kept the hosts in the game.

Svedkauskas did well to tip over a powerful Emerson Palmieri shot from outside the box four minutes before the break.

El Shaarawy missed the chance to finish off a low Matteo Pessina cross, and was replaced after the break by Federico Chiesa with Sensi coming on for Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Both substitutions had an immediate impact.

Svedkauskas denied Chiesa before Manuel Locatelli sent through for Sensi for the opener on 47 minutes.

Lithuania striker Fedor Chernych headed the ball wide with 20 minutes to go with Italy keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma denying Tautvydas Eliosius an opener for the hosts just after following a Bastoni error.

Immobile missed chances for a second but finally added to his tally just before the final whistle with a penalty awarded following a foul on Nicolo Barella.

The Lazio striker stepped up to slot in his 12th goal for Italy, who claimed their fifth consecutive win with a 2-0 scoreline.

ea/dj