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This article was first published 6 years ago  » Sports » World Cup qualifiers: Spain clinch spot with slick win

World Cup qualifiers: Spain clinch spot with slick win

Last updated on: October 07, 2017 10:54 IST
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Isco is congratulated by teammates

IMAGE: Isco celebrates with teammates after scoring Spain's second goal in the World Cup Group G match against Albania on Friday. Photograph: Heino Kalis/Reuters

Spain stormed into the 2018 World Cup as Group G winners after producing a ruthless first half display to beat Albania 3-0 on Friday, sealing their place in Russia next summer as nearest challengers Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Macedonia.

Valencia forward Rodrigo Moreno marked his first international start by opening the scoring in the 16th minute, chesting down an outrageously stylish pass from Isco to swivel and fire into the top corner.

Real Madrid midfielder Isco then shot high into the net in the 23rd to complete an equally impressive move of short floor passes between David Silva and Koke, while Rodrigo's cousin Thiago Alcantara scored the third three minutes later with a thumping header from debutant Alvaro Odriozola's cross.

"We are feeling very happy because we've achieved an objective that was really important for Spanish football," said Spain coach Julen Lopetegui.

"It was very tough but we have done it while playing brilliant football."

The only downside for Spain was a shaky performance from Gerard Pique, who was booed by large sections of the Alicante crowd every time he touched the ball following his support for last Sunday's referendum on Catalan independence and was substituted by Lopetegui after an hour was up.

Despite missing influential players such as Alvaro Morata, Andres Iniesta and Dani Carvajal through injury, the 2010 world champions looked as irresistible as in their 3-0 win over Italy last month, scoring three times in the space of 11 minutes.

Uninspired Italy held by Macedonia

Italy's hopes of qualifying directly for next year's World Cup ended on Friday as they produced another lacklustre performance and were jeered off the field after a 1-1 draw at home to eliminated Macedonia.

The result, coupled with Spain's 3-0 win over Albania, ensured that Italy will finish second in Group G, although they are not yet certain of making the play-off round.

Italy, under fire since their comprehensive 3-0 defeat by Spain last month, seemed to have done the hard part when Giorgio Chiellini scored to break down the visitors' defence five minutes before half-time.

But the goal failed to inspire the four-times world champions and they were stunned when Aleksandar Trajkovski, who plays for Palermo in the Italian league's second tier, equalised in the 77th minute.

Italy have 20 points in Group G and their hopes of reaching Russia now rest on finishing as one of the best eight runners-up who progress to the play-off round from the nine European groups. The group winners all qualify directly.

However, the prospect of deciding their fate in a two-leg tie has made the Italian media and fans jittery and recent performances have added to fears that the unthinkable may happen and Italy could fail to qualify for the first time since 1958.

Ukraine revive hopes with rain-soaked win over Kosovo

Ukraine revived their World Cup qualifying hopes and set up a pivotal tie with Croatia when they defied rain-soaked conditions to win 2-0 away to bottom side Kosovo in their World Cup qualifier on Friday.

An own goal from Leart Paqarada on the hour set Ukraine on the way in the Group I match before Andriy Yarmolenko sealed their win to put them level on 17 points with second-placed Croatia, who were surprisingly held 1-1 at home by Finland.

With leaders Iceland (19 points) hosting Kosovo on Monday and set to top the group, Ukraine's meeting with Croatia in Kiev is likely to decide who earns second place and a possible spot in the European play-off round.

The match was played in the Albanian city of Shkoder as Kosovo do not yet have any stadiums considered fit for World Cup qualifiers.

It was a laboured performance from Ukraine although it might have been easier if Yevhen Konoplyanka's first-half solo effort had gone in rather than striking the woodwork.

A disciplined Kosovo did well to frustrate the visitors until Konoplyanka crossed to the far post and the hapless Paqarada turned the ball into his own net.

Yarmolenko wrapped things up with An emphatic finish three minutes from the end.

Ivory Coast's World Cup hopes in the balance after draw in Mali

The Ivory Coast extended their lead at the top of Group C in their World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday, but the 0-0 draw away to Mali means they can now be overtaken by Morocco.

Russian-based striker Moussa Doumbia missed a first half sitter and struck the crossbar in the second half as the hosts, already out of contention for a place at next year's finals, came close to their first win of the campaign.

The Ivorians, who lost several key players to injury on the eve of the game, moved to eight points from five matches, two more than Morocco who play on Saturday at home to Gabon.

Should the Moroccans win, they will go top by a point and set up a potentially dramatic conclusion to the group next month when they travel to the Ivory Coast for their last match.

The Ivorians have been to the last three World Cup finals but turned in a listless showing on Friday.

Wales beat Georgia to set up Ireland showdown

Wales secured a vital 1-0 victory in Georgia to keep their hopes of automatic World Cup qualification alive on Friday as Tom Lawrence sealed the points with his first goal for his country.

Lawrence lashed home right-footed from just outside the area in the 49th minute to earn Wales only their fourth victory in nine qualifying games and put them clear in second spot in Group D with 17 points, a point behind leaders Serbia, who suffered a shock 3-2 loss at fourth-placed Austria.

Serbia are still favourites to win the group with a final home game against Georgia on Monday, while Wales play third-placed Ireland in what looks like becoming a shoot-out to see who finishes as runners-up to claim a probable playoff spot.

Ireland, who beat Moldova 2-0 on Friday, have 16 points.

Wales, bidding to reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958, would be guaranteed at least runners-up spot in the group providing they avoid defeat against Ireland.

However victory for either side would see them top the group if Serbia lose their final game.

Ireland trail Wales by a point ahead of decider

Ireland set up a must-win playoff decider against Wales with a 2-0 win over Moldova on Friday after a brace from striker Daryl Murphy kept them in contention.

Ireland, who led Group D early on before three points in their previous four games pushed them back to third place, trail Wales by a point ahead of the decider against their near neighbours in Cardiff on Monday.

Wales's victory in Georgia earlier on Friday meant nothing but three points would do Ireland and Martin O'Neil's side got off to the perfect start when Stephen Ward's long throw caused panic in the box and Murphy opened the scoring after less than two minutes.

If Moldova could have defended better for the first goal, they could do little for the second 17 minutes later when a sweeping Wes Hoolahan pass found Ward whose cross was met by the retreating Murphy, looping a long-range header over Ilie Cebanu.

Croatia lose driving seat after draw with Finland

Croatia dented their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup by conceding a 90th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 home draw with Finland in Group I on Friday, which knocked their fate out of their hands.

The result left the Croatians second on 17 points ahead of the last round of games, two behind leaders Iceland, who moved above them with a 3-0 win in Turkey.

Third-placed Ukraine also have 17 points but an inferior goal difference after a 2-0 win at bottom team Kosovo. Their clash with Croatia in Kiev on Monday is likely to decide who clinches the runners-up spot.

Both teams can still win the group only in the unlikely event that Iceland, aiming for their second successive major tournament after reaching the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, slip up at home against Kosovo.

The outcome also piled more pressure on Croatia coach Ante Cacic, who was so shocked that appeared to forget who his team played at the post-game news conference.

Late substitute Pyry Soiri celebrated his international debut for Finland with a fine finish which silenced the home crowd, who then jeered the Croatians off the pitch after a tepid performance.

The 23-year-old's volley from eight metres cancelled out Mario Mandzukic's 57th-minute opener after the home side missed a string of chances in the first half.

Serbia stunned by Austria

Serbia missed a chance to clinch their place at the World Cup when they suffered a shock 3-2 defeat in Group D to already-eliminated Austria, their first loss of the campaign.

Needing a win to qualify for their first major tournament since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Serbia got the perfect start when Luka Milivojevic gave them an 11th-minute lead.

Austria, whose chances of qualifying had evaporated one hour before kick-off when Wales won 1-0 in Georgia, hit back with goals from Guido Burgstaller and Marko Arnautovic before Nemanja Matic equalised for Serbia with seven minutes left.

But Louis Schaub struck in the 89th minute to give Austria a late victory.

Serbia still lead the group with 18 points and will qualify if they beat Georgia at home on Monday. They are followed by Wales on 17 points and Ireland on 16.

US rout Panama, boost qualification chances

Christian Pulisic pulled the strings and Jozy Altidore grabbed a brace as the United States overran Panama 4-0 in Orlando to leave them on the verge of automatic qualification for next year's World Cup finals in Russia.

The victory lifted the United States into third place in the six-team CONCACAF group, above Panama, who started the day a point ahead of them.

A win in their final match against Trinidad and Tobago will likely be enough to see the United States through as Honduras would need to win both their remaining games and overturn a goal difference currently at 12.

Top team Mexico are already through from the North, Central American and Caribbean Confederation and second-placed Costa Rica need just a point from their final two matches to join them.

Costa Rica's scheduled qualifier with Honduras on Friday in San Jose was postponed until Saturday due to severe rainfall caused by tropical storm Nate.

The top three teams qualify automatically, while the fourth-placed side goes into a play-off against a team from the Asian confederation.

Pulisic got the opener after eight minutes when he sprinted free of the defence and slotted the ball home from a tight angle after rounding the goalkeeper.

Altidore made it two 11 minutes later when he side-footed home an inviting low cross from Pulisic. The burly striker made it 3-0 just seconds before half time when he chipped home a penalty after Bobby Wood was upended in the box.

Wood got the goal his play deserved 18 minutes into the second half when he spun inside the box and fired past goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.

The United States should have scored more but profligate finishing and a fine performance from Penedo kept the score down.

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