Brilliant Isco leads Spain show of dominance over Italy
Two brilliant strikes from Isco and a late goal from Alvaro Morata gave Spain a spectacular 3-0 win over Italy, their nearest challengers in Group G, to move into the driving seat for automatic qualification to the 2018 World Cup.
Real Madrid attacking midfielder Isco, who was deployed in a "false nine" position as a deep-lying striker, curled a free kick beyond the reach of veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to put Spain ahead in the 13th minute.
Isco then received the ball on the edge of the area and danced past a defender before cracking a low shot into the near bottom corner which again proved too quick for Buffon five minutes before halftime.
Substitute Morata crafted a superb counter-attack with Sergio Ramos to start and finish the move for the third goal which he slotted past former Juventus team mate Buffon 13 minutes from time, rounding off Spain's best performance against Italy since their 4-0 win in the Euro 2012 final.
"I'm very satisfied with the players' response since I've been here, their mentality and commitment is excellent. Perfection doesn't exist, but we played a great game tonight," Spain coach Julen Lopetegui told reporters.
"You can always improve but it's hard to ask how today. We understood the importance of the game, and we have to thank the fans for how they created an atmosphere like the ones we've seen in Paris and Wembley. We felt their presence."
Spain top Group G on 19 points, three ahead of Italy and seven clear of Albania, who beat basement side Liechtenstein 2-0 on Saturday while Macedonia pulled off a surprise 1-0 victory at Israel.
The continued absence of top scorer Diego Costa and the explosive form of Marco Asensio compelled Lopetegui to imitate his predecessor Vicente del Bosque and play without a recognised striker, a move which paid off to perfection.
Italy, shorn of influential defender Giorgio Chiellini and fielding four forwards which left little presence in midfield, lacked the intensity needed to counter Spain’s passing machine.
Isco may have given Spain their firepower but they created chances from all areas, with Dani Carvajal, Gerard Pique and Ramos all not far from scoring in the first half, while Italy’s only effort was a header from Andrea Belotti which David de Gea saved.
"Today there was a huge difference between the two teams' level of quality and fitness, and when you consider those differences there's no point talking about the result," said Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura.
The coach would not criticise his captain Buffon for his slow reaction to Isco's free-kick, and said Spain were a far more experienced side than his.
Ring free kick fires Finland to 1-0 win over Iceland
Alexander Ring scored a stunning early free kick for Finland as they beat Iceland 1-0 in Tampere, dealing a severe blow to the visitors' hopes of direct qualification for next year's World Cup finals in Russia.
Iceland were second in Group I on 13 points coming into the game, with Croatia, who play bottom side Kosovo later on Saturday, ahead of them on goal difference, while Finland had mustered a single point from six qualifying matches.
The Finns were out for revenge after conceding two stoppage-time goals in Reykjavik to lose 3-2, and Ring gave them a good start when he struck home a beautiful free kick in the eighth minute.
Euro 2016 quarter-finalists Iceland bullied their way back into the game in the second half but lacked composure in the Finnish penalty area, wasting chance after chance.
Rurik Gislasson made Iceland's task even harder by getting himself sent off with 15 minutes left after picking up two cards and the Finns hung on to record their first win of the campaign.
Iceland will try to get back on track on Tuesday when they host Ukraine, who play third-placed Turkey later on Saturday, while the Finns travel to fellow strugglers Kosovo.
Gacinovic shines as Serbia beat Moldova to stay top
Mijat Gacinovic scored his second international goal in two games to help Serbia edge closer to next year's World Cup in Russia with a 3-0 home over Moldova in a Group D qualifier.
The result left the Serbians top of the standings with 15 points from seven games, two ahead of Ireland who lost ground after being held to a 1-1 draw in Georgia.
Serbia will head confidently to Dublin for Tuesday's clash with the Irish after a fine display in which the 22-year-old Gacinovic stood out, having scored on his full debut as a substitute in a 3-1 win at Georgia in March.
Coach Slavoljub Muslin's preferred 3-4-3 formation pinned the Moldovans back from the start and Gacinovic drilled a 12th-minute shot into the top corner after a sharp low cross by Aleksandar Kolarov.
The pair swapped roles on the half-hour as Gacinovic sent a fizzing low cross from the right and Kolarov, deployed as a left winger swept the ball home from seven metres.
Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic shaved the outside of the post with a close-range header as some Serbian fans ran up the terraces for cover from bursts of driving rain.
Serbia continued to dominate in the second half and Mitrovic put the icing on the cake with a predator's finish after captain Branislav Ivanovic and substitute Adem Ljajic had gone close.
The Newcastle United striker slid in to bury a Filip Kostic cross in the 81st minute as Serbia stayed in the driving seat to reach their first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Yarmolenko double for Ukraine sinks Turkey
Striker Andriy Yarmolenko scored twice in the first half as Ukraine beat Turkey 2-0 win to boost their hopes of reaching their second World Cup as a sovereign country.
Ukraine jumped from the fourth place to the top of Group I on 14 points, one above Croatia and Iceland, who lost 1-0 to Finland.
Ukraine travel to Iceland on Tuesday and Croatia still haveone game in hand after their game against Kosovo was abandoned due to heavy rain.
Yarmolenko scored the opener for Ukraine in the 18th minute as he fired low into the left corner to finish off a good move.
Yarmolenko, who moved from Dynamo Kiev to Borussia Dortmund this week, calmly struck the second goal into an unguarded net three minutes before halftime.