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World Cup QFs: Spain, Italy and Croatia win; Wales held

Last updated on: October 10, 2016 10:05 IST
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IMAGE: Wales' Gareth Bale reacts. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge Livepic/Reuters.

Gareth Bale scored his 25th goal for Wales but Georgia fought back strongly to earn a deserved 1-1 draw in a World Cup Group D qualifier in Cardiff on Sunday.

It left Wales, surprise semi-finalists at Euro 2016, with five points from three games and at risk of losing the group leadership after the day's later matches.

Georgia took their first point, following narrow defeats by Austria and Ireland.

Wales, who have only ever qualified for the finals once, in 1958, took the lead in the 10th minute when Real Madrid's Bale leapt above his markers to head in Joe Ledley's corner.

He is now only three goals behind Ian Rush's national record of 28 goals.

The home team paid for a lack of urgency, however, after 57 minutes when Tornike Okriashvili headed an equaliser.

Georgia, dangerous on the counter-attack, could have gone on to win but Levan Mchedlidze missed when clean through and Valeri Qazaishvili hit the bar.

The other Group D matches, in which second-placed Serbia meet Austria, and bottom team Moldova play Ireland, were taking place later on Sunday.

Next month Wales are at home again, to Serbia, while Georgia play Moldova.

Costa and Nolito earn Spain hard-fought win

IMAGE: Spain's Sergio Ramos (C) in action. Photograph: Antonio Bronic/Reuters.

Spain's Diego Costa and Nolito scored second-half goals to seal a battling 2-0 win away to Albania on Sunday that moved them top of World Cup qualifying Group G on goal difference.

Costa took advantage of a horrendous error by goalkeeper Etrit Berisha in the 56th minute to break the deadlock in a tight game on a rainswept night in Shkoder before substitute Nolito finished off a slick team move in the 63rd.

With full backs Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto injured, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui included Arsenal's Nacho Monreal to form an unusual back three with Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique.

A midfield four gave Spain superiority in that area of the pitch and they monopolised possession but were met with dogged opposition by Gianni de Biasi's side, who went into the game top of the group after winning their opening two games.

The visitors' best first-half chance was a drilled effort by Vitolo from the edge of the area tipped away by Etrit Berisha, though the Atalanta keeper ended up gifting Spain their opener.

His misplaced pass landed at the feet of Vitolo, who quickly found David Silva to tee up Costa for a close range tap in.

With the wind finally in their sails after a frustrating first half, Spain turned on the style and doubled the lead when Nolito curled Monreal's cut back into the far corner.

Spain lead the group with seven points due to a better goal difference than Italy, who snatched a late 3-2 win at Macedonia. Albania stayed on six points and slipped from first to third.

Coach Ventura blames inexperience for Italy blackout

IMAGE: Italy's coach Giampiero Ventura reacts during the match. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters.

Italy coach Giampiero Ventura blamed inexperience for a second-half blackout which left his team on the brink of a shock defeat to rank outsiders Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday.

Macedonia, trailing 1-0 at halftime, scored two goals in three minutes and had two clear chances to score a third shortly afterwards as Italy dramatically fell apart.

The four-times world champions looked lost and could barely string two passes together until two goals from Ciro Immobile rescued the Italians and gave them a 3-2 win.

"For 10 minutes, we stopped being a team, but then we were once again the Italy that everyone knows and we got this result," said Ventura, who replaced Antonio Conte as coach after Euro 2016.

Clinical Mandzukic keeps Croatia ticking

IMAGE: Croatia's Mario Mandzukic in action. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini Livepic/Reuters.

Striker Mario Mandzukic continued his fine scoring form with an opportunist header as Croatia beat Finland 1-0 in their World Cup Group I qualifier in Tampere on Sunday.

The towering target man, who netted a hat-trick in Thursday's 6-0 away rout of Kosovo, pounced in the 18th minute after Andrej Kramaric turned an inviting Sime Vrsaljko cross into his path.

The result left Croatia top of the section on seven points from three games.

Looking a little flat after demolishing the Kosovans, Croatia were in control apart from a spell of second-half sporadic pressure from the home side.

The home side failed to create a clear-cut chance on a difficult pitch while, at the other end, Ivan Perisic hit the inside of the post in the 75th minute after a solo run.

Finland keeper Lukas Hradecky twice denied substitute Duje Cop in the closing stages as the home team ran out of steam and Croatia finished on a high note.

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