Italy wins late to keep pace with Spain
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP):
Italy kept Spain from opening a significant advantage atop Group G by scoring two late goals and salvaging a 3-2 win at Macedonia yesterday in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Spain got off to a slow start at Albania but eased to a 2-0 victory behind second-half goals by Diego Costa and Manuel 'Nolito' Agudo.
Italy needed an injury-time goal by Ciro Immobile to secure the hard-fought win that allowed it to join Spain atop the group with seven points.
Albania stayed with six points along with Israel, which beat Liechtenstein 2-1.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
Macedonia and Liechtenstein remain without a point after three matches.
Spain dominated from the start as expected, but it struggled to create many significant scoring chances against Albania in steady rain at the Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder.
The first goal came after a mistake by Albanian goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, who mishit the ball while trying to clear it from the back and gave it to Vitolo. The striker passed to David Silva and he set up Costa's easy goal from inside the area in the 55th minute.
The second goal was a well-placed shot by Nolito, who found the far corner from a tight angle after evading a defender inside the area in the 63rd.
"It could seem like an easy game, but we knew it was going to be complicated," Nolito said. "We really needed these three points."
Albania entered the match with a two-point advantage over Spain and Italy, which drew 1-1 when they met in Turin on Thursday.
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui tried a different tactical scheme, playing with three defenders at the back and an extra man in midfield.
Italy seemed in control against Macedonia after Andrea Belotti scored in the 24th minute, but goals by Ilija Nestorovski in the 57th and Ferhan Hasani in the 59th, both times after Italian giveaways, left the visitors in danger of a shock defeat.
Immobile equalised in the 75th and netted the important winner with a close-range header two minutes into second-half injury time, keeping Italy in a strong position.
"It was a great response by the team as far as character is concerned," Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said.