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> Im­mo­bile res­cues Italy as Spain cruise <

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

LAZIO striker Ciro Im­mo­bile grabbed an in­jury-time win­ner as four-time cham­pi­ons Italy snatched a 3-2 come­back win at Mace­do­nia yes­ter­day, nar­rowly avoid­ing a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing em­bar­rass­ment.

Italy, who had needed a late penalty to sal­vage a point against Group G ri­vals Spain on Thurs­day, were star­ing at a shock de­feat in Skopje against a Mace­do­nia side ranked a lowly 146 in the world.

Torino striker An­drea Belotti had given Italy a 24th-minute lead just four min­utes af­ter Palermo marks­man Ilija Nestorokvski had crashed a drive off the cross­bar for the hosts.

But Nestorokvski lev­elled just be­fore the hour mark when he robbed Marco Ver­ratti be­fore tuck­ing the ball past veteran goal­keeper Gian­luigi Buf­fon.

Two min­utes later, Mace­do­nia were ahead when mid­fielder Fer­han Hasani fin­ished a smart move in­volv­ing Go­ran Pan­dev and Nestorovski.

How­ever Im­mo­bile put Italy back on equal terms at 2-2 with 15 min­utes left af­ter good ap­proach work from Ver­ratti and An­to­nio Can­dreva.

On 90 min­utes, Marco Parolo had a header ruled out for off­side be­fore club team­mate Im­mo­bile saved Italy with the win­ner two min­utes into in­jury time, fin­ish­ing off a Can­dreva cross.

“We were weak and let up in the sec­ond half. You can’t give any­thing away at in­ter­na­tional level, we had to be more ruth­less,” ad­mit­ted Im­mo­bile.

Italy are sec­ond in Group G with seven points but Spain lead the way on goal dif­fer­ence af­ter a de­served 2-0 win over Al­ba­nia in Shkoder.

Chelsea star Diego Costa tucked away the first on 55 min­utes past goal­keeper Etrit Ber­isha who had pulled off a se­ries of fine saves in the first half.

Nolito hit the sec­ond of the night just three min­utes af­ter com­ing on as a sub­sti­tute for Vi­tolo.

“This was a very dif­fi­cult match even if it ap­peared easy,” said Nolito. “Al­ba­nia are a good side who know how to play.”

The only down­side for Spain was see­ing key de­fender and skip­per Ser­gio Ramos suf­fer a left knee in­jury which could side­line him for three matches with his club side, Real Madrid.

In Group D, Southamp­ton’s Du­san Tadic scored the win­ner as Ser­bia beat Aus­tria 3-2 in Bel­grade.

New­cas­tle’s Alexsan­dar Mitro­vic had scored Ser­bia’s first two goals in the open­ing half as his side went top on seven points.

They lead the way on goal dif­fer­ence from the Repub­lic of Ire­land who beat Moldova 3-1 in Chisinau.

Wes Hoola­han fed Shane Long to score af­ter just two min­utes for Ire­land but Moldova, beaten 3-0 by Ser­bia at home on Thurs­day, lev­elled in in­jury-time when Igor Bu­gaiov scored his first goal in five years.

West Brom’s James McClean was on tar­get twice af­ter the break to give Ire­land the three points.

Euro 2016 semi­fi­nal­ists Wales were held to a dis­ap­point­ing 1-1 draw by Ge­or­gia in Cardiff as their push to reach a first World Cup since 1958 hit a road­block.

The draw fol­lowed a 2-2 stale­mate against Aus­tria four days ago as Chris Cole­man’s side were left to re­gret not mak­ing the most of a host of chances in the first half.

Real Madrid star Gareth Bale headed Wales into a 10th-minute lead but Ge­or­gia hit back af­ter the break, equal­is­ing through Tornike Okri­ashvili’s 57th-minute header.

Ge­or­gia nearly won the game late on when Va­leri Kaza­ishvili struck the cross­bar.

“Peo­ple will look at it as two points dropped but it might be a point gained at the end of the day, in the sec­ond half,” said Cole­man whose team went from top of the group to third place.

In Group I, Croa­tia won 1-0 in Fin­land at Tam­pere with Ju­ven­tus striker Mario Mandzu­kic scor­ing the only goal af­ter 18 min­utes when Fin­land goal­keeper Lukas Hradecky al­lowed a cross from An­drej Kra­maric to slip from his grasp.

Croa­tia have seven points and lead on goal dif­fer­ence from Ice­land who fol­lowed up their come-frombe­hind 3-2 win over Fin­land with an im­pres­sive a 2-0 vic­tory over Turkey in Reyk­javik.

Turkey de­fender Omer To­prak put through his own goal in the 42nd minute be­fore Al­fred Finnbo­ga­son added a sec­ond just be­fore the break.

Ukraine are third, two points back, af­ter a 3-0 win over Kosovo in a game played at Krakow in Poland. – AFP

Italy for­ward Ciro Im­mo­bile (left) thwarts Mace­do­nia de­fender Ste­fan Ris­tovski dur­ing the World Cup 2018 qual­i­fy­ing match at the Philip II of Mace­don Sta­dium in Skopje yes­ter­day. –

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