Madrid, Oct 7 (IANS) Spain defeated Albania 3-0 to assure themselves a berth in the 2018 World Cup and consign Italy to second place in Group G, while the battle for the top spots in Groups D and I will come down to the 10th and final qualifying round.
With Spain, Belgium, England, Germany and hosts Russia already qualified, nine European slots remain to be filled, reports Efe.
La Roja cruised to victory over visiting Albania, with three first-half goals from Rodrigo Moreno, Isco Alarcon and Thiago Alcantara.
But the win would not have been sufficient to guarantee first place in Group G if not for Italy’s flat performance against Macedonia.
The Azzurri took a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute on a goal by Giorgio Chiellini, but they conceded a marker to Macedonia’s Aleksandar Trajkovski in the final 15 minutes and were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw that leaves them at 20 points, five behind Spain.
Italy have a lock on the second spot in the group and look likely to be among the eight second-place finishers who will face each other in playoffs for a chance to go to Russia.
In Group I, Iceland posted an impressive 3-0 away victory against Turkey, getting goals from Johan Gudmundsson, Birkir Bjarnason and Kari Arnason to climb to 19 points, two more than both Croatia and Ukraine.
The Nordic side can clinch the first place with a victory next week over winless Kosovo, who fell 0-2 to Ukraine on Friday.
Facing Finland at home, Croatia could manage only a draw.
After a scoreless first half, Mario Mandzukic put the hosts up 1-0 in the 57th minute, but Pyri Soiri equalised for the Finns in the final minute of regulation.
Assuming that Iceland beat Albania, Monday’s clash between Ukraine and Croatia will determine second place in the group.
Serbia blew a chance on Friday to secure the top spot in Group D, losing 2-3 to Austria on a goal in the 89th minute by Louis Schaub.
With 18 points, the Serbs are just a point ahead of Wales — who beat Georgia 1-0 on Friday — and two up on Ireland, 2-0 winners over Moldavia.
A victory against Georgia on Monday would guarantee Serbia a ticket to Russia regardless of what happens in the match between Wales and Ireland.
But a Serbian defeat would open the door for either of the Celtic sides to snatch the Group D crown.