Spain, Italy, Croatia win World Cup qualifiers

Indo Asian News Service

Madrid/Milan, March 25 (IANS) Spain and Italy eased past their opponents to stay unbeaten in Group G of the 2018 football World Cup European qualifiers, with Italian veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon playing the 1,000th game of his professional career.

Spain on Friday extended their unbeaten streak in World Cup qualifiers to 58 matches with a 4-1 home victory over Israel, as David Silva, Vitolo, Diego Costa and Isco all found the net, while Thiago Alcantara and Silva himself saw the ball hit the woodwork, reports Xinhua news agency.

Lior Refaelov scored a consolation goal for the visitors in the 76th minute in Sporting Gijon's El Molinon Stadium.

"I am very happy because the team has worked well against Israel, they're a good group. We did a good match. I liked the intensity in retrieving the ball and the circulation. I think that's what the match demanded," Spain's head coach Julen Lopetegui said in a statement.

The match between Italy and Albania in Palermo had to be suspended after 57 minutes as Albania fans threw flares onto the field, but it didn't spoil Gian Piero Ventura-coached home side's 2-0 win at home.

Four-time World Cup winners Italy therefore stretched their unbeaten record in World Cup qualifiers to 32 (last defeat on October 9, 2004 to Slovenia).

Flares thrown by the visiting fans began to fall onto the grass just after the 12th minute, when the hosts were awarded a penalty after Andrea Belotti was brought down inside the box. Veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi converted the penalty to make it 1-0.

Lazio striker Ciro Immobile doubled the lead for Italy in the 71st minute with a header from Davide Zappacosta's cross from the right wing.

"We have made a small step forwards, at the start there was too much of a desire to force things and we weren't fluid," said Ventura in a statement.

"In the second half, we saw a better Italy. A real group is emerging, there are lots of new players and lots of young players but I saw all the ingredients to do something good in the future."

Italy captain Buffon, 39, marked his 1,000th professional game and European record-breaking 168th for his national team without any problem as he was hardly tested by the Albanians. He has played 612 times for Turin giants Juventus and 220 for now-defunct Parma club where he made his debut in November 1995.

Spain and Italy both claimed 13 points after five rounds, as the former led just on goal difference. Israel were placed third with nine points, followed by fourth-ranked Albania with six.

Also in Group G, Macedonia tasted their first win after overcoming Liechtenstein 3-0.

Serbia went atop Group D after beating Georgia 3-1, levelling on 11 points with Ireland, who recorded a goalless draw with 2016 Euro semi-finalists Wales.

Austria beat Moldova 2-0 to claim the fourth position behind Wales on goal difference.

Croatia led Group I with 13 points after edging past Ukraine 1-0, three points ahead of Iceland, who beat Kosovo 2-1.

It was a strike of brilliance from Nikola Kalinic in the 38th minute that made a difference between Croatia and Ukraine. Croatian captain Luka Modric initiated the play with his pass to Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic who flicked the ball with his heel to Kalinic in the heart of the box. Fiorentina striker Kalinic needed just a split second to turn around and put the ball in the top left corner to beat Ukrainian keeper Andriy Pyatov.

Croatia head coach Ante Cacic said: "This was a brilliant goal. That is something that only natural born scorers can do. That's why he was in the team."

Cenk Tosun's two goals during a four-minute span earned Turkey a 2-0 victory over Finland.

--IANS

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