Spain Qualifies, Italy Sent to Play-Offs

Italy will advance to the two-legged playoffs in November as long as it is among the top eight of the nine group runners-up
Spain players celebrate after the match with Albania.Spain players celebrate after the match with Albania.

Spain cruised to a 3-0 win over Albania on Friday to secure qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia and put Italy on a path for the playoffs.

The win allowed Spain to move five points clear in Group G above Italy that is now assured of finishing second, while Albania’s slim hopes were extinguished.

According to, Spain’s breakthrough came in the 16th minute when Rodrigo took Isco’s pass into the box off his chest, then scored his first international goal on the half-volley.

Isco got a goal himself in the 23rd minute by receiving Koke’s pass and spinning with one touch before shooting into the roof of the net, and four minutes later Thiago - Rodrigo’s cousin - also scored his first goal for Spain by heading in debutant Alvaro Odriozola’s cross.

  Off to Play-Off

Italy will finish in second place in Group G after being pegged back to a shock 1-1 draw with Macedonia.

Italy were largely frustrated in the first half but the pressure told in the 40th minute as Macedonia struggled to clear its lines and Lorenzo Insigne played a through ball into Ciro Immobile, who unselfishly set up Giorgio Chiellini to score.

But Macedonia was the more interested side in the second half and found a stunning equalizer in the 77th minute. Following a long kick forward from the goalkeeper, Goran Pandev played through Aleksandar Trajkovski, who snapped a shot past Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy will advance to the two-legged UEFA playoffs in November as long as it is among the top eight of the nine group runners-up.

  Lost Chance

Serbia missed a chance to secure qualification after wasting an early lead and losing 3-2 away to Austria.

Serbia still lead Wales by one point in Group D but could have moved out of reach after Luka Milivojevicis was on hand to slam home their opening goal from the top of the box in the 11th minute.

But Austria stormed back as Kevin Danso sent a ball over the top for Guido Burgstaller to equalize with a first-timed shot in the 25th minute, before Marko Arnautovic put them ahead in the 76th.

Nemanja Matic appeared to salvage a point for Serbia after the ball fell to his feet and the Man United player scored from six yards out in the 83rd minute.

But Louis Schaub stepped up to put in the winner in the 89th minute for Austria, who had already been eliminated.

  Crucial Win

Playing earlier in the day without talisman Gareth Bale, Wales still earned a crucial 1-0 win away to Georgia to remain in pole position for a playoff spot.

Tom Lawrence answered Wales’ call for a hero by striking a winner from distance four minutes into the second half.

Aaron Ramsey rolled the ball into Lawrence’s path and he skipped away from his marker before unleashing a thunderous 25-yard drive.

Wales have a one-point advantage in second place in Group D ahead of their crunch clash against Republic of Ireland, who kept pace with a 2-0 win over minnows Moldova.

Daryl Murphy’s early brace means Ireland can pip Wales for second with a win in Cardiff on Monday.

Ireland needed less than two minutes to take the lead as Stephen Ward’s long throw-in was nodded on, and Murphy volleyed in the opener.

Ward and Murphy connected again in the 19th minute, the Burnley man reaching the ball before it went out of play and crossing back across the box for Murphy to score with a looping header.

 Smallest Nation

Iceland moved into the top spot in Group I with a 3-0 victory over Turkey, who were eliminated after the devastating result at home.

Johann Gudmundsson opened the scoring in the 32nd minute when he steered home Jon Dadi Bodvarsson’s low cross from the left at the far post.

Birkir Bjarnason doubled the visitors’ advantage seven minutes later with a fine finish from an angle after some good work from Bodvarsson in the box. And Kari Arnason added an easy third just after the break, tapping home Aron Gunnarsson’s unmarked header from inside the six-yard box.

Iceland will become the smallest nation ever at the World Cup if they can secure a home win against Kosovo on Monday.

Croatia dropped into second place in Group I, two points behind the Euro 2016 darlings after a late 1-1 draw with Finland in Rijeka.

Mario Mandzukic put the hosts in front on 57 minutes - the Juventus forward finishing off what was sure to be a Niklas Moisander with a tap-in at the goal-mouth after the Finland defender made a mess of a low cross from the left. However, Pyry Soiri scored at the death to steal a point for the visitors.

Meanwhile, Ukraine moved into third place and kept their World Cup hopes alive by narrowly winning 2-0 to Kosovo.

A 60th-minute Leart Paqarada own goal and an Andriy Yarmolenko strike three minutes from time were all the visitors needed to remain two points behind Iceland - and pull level on points with Monday’s opponents Croatia heading into the final round.


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