Italy wins late to keep pace with Spain

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

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 hard­fought 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. Italy’s Marco Ver­ratti (cen­tre) drib­bles be­tween Mace­do­nia’s Ezd­jan Alioski (left) dur­ing their World Cup Group G qual­i­fy­ing match at the Philip II of Mace­don Na­tional Sta­dium in Skopje, Mace­do­nia, yes­ter­day. Italy won 3-2.

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.

COM­PLI­CATED GAME

“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.

SA­MUELS

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