Alicante - Heavyweights
Spain qualified for the 2018 Soccer World Cup with a routine 3-0 home win over
Albania, but Serbia must wait to seal to their place following a 3-2
loss in Austria.
Rodrigo, Isco and Thiago Alcantara all scored inside the first 30
minutes in Alicante as the 2010 world champions locked up top spot in
Group G as Italy were surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by Macedonia in
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was greeted with a mixture of jeers
and applause on his 92nd international appearance just days after voting
in a referendum on Catalan independence deemed illegal by the Spanish
government and blighted by police violence.
"We had to concentrate solely on football," coach Julen Lopetegui told Spanish TV station Teledeporte.
"It has been a difficult, complicated week and fortunately we managed to do that in a very, very good first 30 minutes."
Four-time World Cup winners Italy are destined for the November
playoffs after Macedonian substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski's
77th-minute equaliser cancelled out a first-half goal by veteran
defender Giorgio Chiellini.
"There's still one match left and then we'll think about the
playoffs. We hope to get some players back," said Italy coach Gian
Piero Ventura, whose squad has been depleted by a raft of injuries.
Serbia missed out on a chance to wrap up qualification from Group D
with a match to spare as Louis Schaub struck a minute from time to give
Austria victory in Vienna.
Serbia, who could have sealed a spot in Russia with victory, led
through an early Luka Milivojevic goal but fell behind as Austria
replied through efforts from Guido Burgstaller and Marko Arnautovic.
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic had levelled on 83 minutes
before Schaub's winner, but Serbia can still advance by defeating
Georgia in their final qualifier in Belgrade on Monday.
scored his first international goal to earn Wales a vital 1-0 victory in
Georgia and keep them firmly in the hunt for a finals berth.
The Derby County forward rifled in the winner four minutes after
half-time in Tbilisi as Chris Coleman's team stayed a point clear of
third-placed Republic of Ireland.
The Irish brushed Moldova aside 2-0 in Dublin through a first-half
brace from Daryl Murphy and now face Wales at home in a final-round
showdown with first place in the group still in play.
"All we can do is work hard and take care of our business. We have a
huge test on Monday night against the Republic of Ireland. We have a
game plan and we will see where it takes us," Coleman told Sky Sports.
Serbia head the section on 18 points with Wales, aiming to reach the
World Cup for the first time since 1958, second on 17 and Ireland
another point further back.
Iceland took a huge step towards a maiden World Cup appearance with
an impressive 3-0 win over Turkey in Eskisehir that leaves the hosts all
but out of the running.
Johann Gudmundsson, Birkir Bjarnason and Kari Arnason scored as
Iceland pulled two points clear of Croatia at the top of Group I after
the latter were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to eliminated
Ukraine are level on 17 points with Croatia following a 2-0 win away to Kosovo and host the Croats in Kiev on Monday.
nations have already booked their place for the 2018 World Cup in
Russia with final qualifying matches still to be played:
Russia (as hosts)
World Cup 2018 qualifying results in the European zone on Friday:
Georgia 0 Wales 1 (Lawrence 49)
Austria 3 (Burgstaller 25, Arnautovic 76, Schaub 89) Serbia 2 (Milivojevic 11, Matic 83)
Republic of Ireland 2 (Murphy 2, 19) Moldova 0
Italy 1 (Chiellini 40) Macedonia 1 (Trajkovski 77)
Liechtenstein 0 Israel 1 (Tibi 21)
Spain 3 (Rodrigo 16, Isco 24, Alcantara 27) Albania 0
Croatia 1 (Mandzukic 57) Finland 1 (Soiri 90)
Kosovo 0 Ukraine 2 (Paqarada 60-og, Yarmolenko 87)
Turkey 0 Iceland 3 (Gudmundsson 32, Bjarnason 39, Arnason 50)