Croatia, Ireland go clear as Spain and Italy ease to victory

  • Croatia take sole charge of Group I after ending Iceland’s unbeaten start
  • Ireland two points clear in Group D following narrow triumph in Austria
  • Spain and Italy level at top of Group G after respective wins against FYR Macedonia and Liechtenstein
  • Turkey register their first victory of the campaign, 2-0 against Kosovo
  • Next fixtures in these groups: Friday 24 March 2017

Group D
Austria 0-1 Republic of Ireland

James McClean scored in the 48th minute to give unbeaten Ireland victory. The visitors lost Glenn Whelan to a first-half injury and both teams hit the crossbar late in the opening period.

But McClean made the difference after he was set free by Wes Hoolahan on the counter and the West Bromwich Albion winger finished through the legs of Ramazan Özcan, leaving fourth-placed Austria six points off the pace.

James McClean (Republic of Ireland)Ireland goalscorer James McClean is congratulated©Sportsfile

Georgia 1-1 Moldova
Alexandru Gațcan’s superb looping volley with 12 minutes left ensured Moldova avoided an eighth consecutive competitive defeat. Georgia had to settle for a second draw of the campaign despite Valeri Kazaishvili’s curler giving them a 16th-minute lead. Georgia end 2016 having won just one of eight games – a friendly away to Spain on 7 June.

Wales 1-1 Serbia
Aleksandar Mitrović’s 86th-minute equaliser rescued a point for Serbia in Cardiff. Wales had appeared set for victory when Gareth Bale fired in on the half-hour mark after Hal Robson-Kanu had dispossessed Matija Nastasić.

However, the game took a decisive twist late on as Bale struck a post and Serbia levelled within a minute, Mitrović glancing a header in off the woodwork to keep Serbia two points ahead of the UEFA EURO 2016 semi-finalists.

Group G
Albania 0-3 Israel
Israel remain within a point of Spain and Italy and are now three clear of Albania, who ended the game with nine men. Berat Xhimshiti (17) was dismissed after conceding a penalty for a foul on Eran Zahavi, who stepped up to beat Etrit Berisha.

Burim Kukeli (Albania)  Eran Zahavi (Israel)Eran Zahavi scored one of his two penalties in Albania©AFP/Getty Images

Berisha received a red card in the same circumstances as Xhimshiti early in the second half but his replacement Alban Hoxha, winning only his second cap, saved the resulting Zahavi spot kick. Dan Einbinder and Eliran Atar then chipped in with their first goals at this level as the two-man advantage told.

Liechtenstein 0-4 Italy
A change of formation to Giampiero Ventura’s favoured 4-2-4 paid dividends as Italy equalled their record qualifying away win. All the goals came in the first half, Andrea Belotti getting the first on 11 minutes then instantly making the second for Ciro Immobile.

Antonio Candreva added the third before Belotti’s second, Peter Jehle doing well to deny the Azzurri thereafter. Davide Zappacosta made his Italy debut while Gianluigi Buffon’s 166th cap brings him to within one of European record holders Iker Casillas and Vitālijs Astafjevs.

Spain 4-0 FYR Macedonia
The visitors did not make it easy for Spain in Granada but the home side still moved on to ten points from four games. The deadlock was broken when Dani Carvajal’s cross was headed into his own net by Darko Velkoski in the 34th minute and just past the hour mark Vitolo pounced when a David Silva ball was deflected into his path.

Andrea Belotti (Italy)Italy’s Andrea Belotti celebrates in familiar style©Getty Images

The lead was doubled in the last few minutes as Nacho Monreal volleyed his first international goal and then Aritz Aduriz became the oldest-ever scorer for Spain at the age of 35 years and 275 days.

Group I
Croatia 2-0 Iceland
Unbeaten Croatia inflicted Iceland’s first Group I loss. Internazionale Milano midfielder Marcelo Brozović scored from outside the penalty area in each half, his second of the game sealing the points in the first minute of added time. The one sour note for the hosts was the last-gasp dismissal of Ivan Perišić.    

Turkey 2-0 Kosovo
Samir Urjkani frustrated Turkey in the first half with a string of fine saves, twice thwarting Volkan Şen and Hakan Çalhanoğlu respectively. After Valon Berisha rattled a post for Kosovo just before the interval, Burak Yılmaz (51) collected a pass from substitute Yunus Mallı, turned and drove past Urjkani.

Burak Yılmaz (Turkey)Burak Yılmaz (right) after breaking Kosovo’s resistance©AFP/Getty Images

The Crescent Stars’ first victory in the pool was sealed once Volkan (55), following up after Burak had lobbed an effort against the crossbar, hooked in his first international goal. 

Ukraine 1-0 Finland
Ukraine leapfrogged Iceland into second place, behind Croatia, thanks to Artem Kravets’ 25th-minute strike. The Granada forward, who headed Bohdan Butko’s floated cross against the woodwork early on, converted Yevhen Konoplyanka’s ball across the face of goal after some fine wing play by the Schalke man.

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