UEFA WCQ roundup: Spain, Italy battle on; Iceland catch Croatia

AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in 2018 World Cup qualifying around Europe…

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Macedonia 1-2 Spain

When the groups were drawn, Group G was only going to be like this: Spain and Italy would duke it out for the automatic qualification place, and the runners-up would head to the qualification playoff where they would presumably roll right into next summer’s World Cup in Russia. After six of 10 games, it’s safe to say everyone was spot-on with their prognostications. Each on 16 points (Spain ahead on goal differential, +18 to +14), the next closest hopefuls are Albania and Israel, on nine points apiece.

Sunday’s win over Macedonia, which La Furia Roja only just held onto after going up 2-0 early on, was enough to keep Julen Lopetegui’s side ahead of the Italians, though their goal differential advantage was reduced considerably. David Silva (15th minute) and Diego Costa (27th) got the goals to set up what will likely be the group-deciding game next time out, in September: Spain hosting Italy.

Italy 5-0 Liechtenstein

Five goals, scored by five different goalscorers, helped Italy gain a fair bit of ground on Spain — from a +9 goal differential, to +14.

Lorenzo Insigne (35th minute) Andrea Belotti (52nd), Eder (74th), Federico Bernardeschi (83rd) and Manolo Gabbiadini (90th) got the goals to hand the Azzurri their most comfortable victory this round of qualifying thus far (they beat Liechtenstein 4-0 in their first meeting).

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Iceland 1-0 Croatia

Following Iceland’s 90th-minute winner over group-leading Croatia, the Group I standings currently read as follows: Croatia (13 points), Iceland (13), Turkey (11), Ukraine (11). With four games still to play, two of the four will likely crack the 15-point plateau, and fail to even qualify for the playoff.

Sunday’s game looked to be headed for a scoreless draw, until Bristol City defender Hoerdur Magnusson headed Strakarnir okkar (Our boys) into the lead in the final minute of regular time.

Kosovo 1-4 Turkey

Turkey, like Iceland and Ukraine, used Croatia’s slip-up to creep closer to the summit, as Ay-Yıldızlılar (The Crescent-Stars) put four past Kosovo away from home.

Volkan Sen opened the scoring after just seven minutes, but the home side drew level 15 minutes later, though Amir Rrahmani. The level scoreline was short-lived, though, as 19-year-old Cengiz Under put Turkey back ahead just after the half-hour mark. It remained 2-1 until the hour mark, when Burak Yilmaz bagged his 22nd career international goal to move level with former Middlesbrough and Stoke City striker Tuncay Sanli as the second-most prolific scorer in Turkish history. 22-year-old Ozan Tufan completed the scoring on 82 minutes, and Turkey moved to within two points of the top of Group I.

Elsewhere in UEFA WCQ

Group D

Moldova 2-2 Georgia
Ireland 1-1 Austria
Serbia 1-1 Wales

Group G

Israel 0-3 Albania

Group I

Finland 1-2 Ukraine