Spain book World Cup place after Italy slip up, Iceland on verge of qualification
Spain became the eleventh team to qualify for Russia 2018 after their convincing 3-0 win over Albania and Italy’s disappointing home draw against Macedonia. Elsewhere, Euro 2016 surprise package Iceland are looking good.
An early goal from Valencia frontman Rodrigo set 2010 World Cup winners Spain on their way, before Isco and Thiago made it comfortable before the break.
But Spain only secured their qualification when Macedonia’s Aleksandar Trajkovski cancelled out Giorgio Chiellini’s opener for Italy and condemned the Azzuri to the playoffs.
In group D, Serbia fluffed their lines as already-eliminated Austria edged a 3-2 thriller in Vienna. Luka Milivojevic’s early strike for Serbia was soon cancelled out by Guido Burgstaller. With 15 minutes remaining, Marko Arnautovic put the home side ahead and then struck again after Nemanja Matic had briefly restored partity.
Serbia’s first loss of the campaign means they need a win at home to Georgia to be sure of making their first World Cup since 2010.
If they slip up, Wales (who won 1-0 away in Georgia) and Republic of Ireland (who won 2-0 at home to Macedonia) could take top spot. The rivals play each other in Cardiff on Tuesday, with Wales a point ahead of Ireland and a point behind Serbia.
Iceland, who reached the quarterfinals of Euro 2016, are on course for their first global tournament after a dramatic night in group I. The Scandinavians were excellent as they raced in to a two goal lead before the break and Kari Arnason ensured the Turks would fail to qualify in the second half.
Despite that performance, Iceland looked to be heading for second spot before Pyry Soiri hammered home a last minute equalizer for eliminated Finland against Croatia, who led the pack at the start of the evening. The results mean Iceland are at least in the playoffs and will qualify if they beat bottom-placed Kosovo on Monday. Ukraine, who beat Kosovo 2-0, and Croatia will battle it out for second, and a probable playoff spot on the same night.
Germany book World Cup spot and stay perfect with Northern Ireland win
Germany made it nine wins from nine in qualifying and booked their place at World Cup 2018 with a comfortable 3-1 win over Northern Ireland on Thursday. Sebastian Rudy, Sandro Wagner and Joshua Kimmich did the damage.
Northern Ireland 1 – 3 Germany
(Magennis 90+ 3 – Rudy 2′, Wagner 21′, Kimmich 86′)
Any nerves the world champions may have had were settled almost instantly thanks to Sebastian Rudy’s stunning long range strike. The Bayern Munich midfielder picked up a layoff from clubmate Joshua Kimmich and unleashed a rocket in to the top corner after 67 seconds.
Northern Ireland’s campaign has been built on the solidity of a defense that had conceded just three goals in their eight games before this one and they found it tough to find a more attacking approach after the early concession. They were nearly two down 15 minutes later, when Sandro Wagner’s header struck the post.
The Hoffenheim striker wasn’t to be denied for long though. Wagner received a 21st minute ball from Thomas Müller on the edge of the box. His touch looked a little clumsy but the left footed strike that followed was quite the opposite – it curled past McGovern at a rapid pace.
In a rare foray forward, the hosts should have got one back just before the break. Corry Evans broke through from the left-hand channel but connected poorly with a bouncing ball, allowing Marc-Andre ter-Stegen to save with his legs.That was as good as it got for the men in green until the 77th minute when Conor Washington’s fierce drive clipped the bar. While Germany kept their opponents at arm’s length for the second period, they rarely threatened themselves and noticeably dipped in intensity. While they did find time to grab a third, when Kimmich snuck in a volley in at the near post from a tight angle, they also conceded a soft consolation in injury time – Josh Magennis nodding home from close range.
But that will matter little and this was a performance consistent with a straightforward campaign from the world champions. As well as securing their passage to Russia, the win means Germany are still unbeaten away from home in World Cup qualifiers, a run that now stretches to 47 games.