THE DAY REPLAYED – Has Andriy Yarmolenko been taking showboat classes from Ronaldinho? Is there anybody more terrifying to mark than Aleksandar Mitrovic? Was that Nordic UEFA EURO fairy tale really a fairy tale? Is any player in Europe better at scoring headers than Gareth Bale? Has anyone told Paolo Di Canio he’s not the only Italian who can score both-feet-in-the-air volleys?
We’re unsure, but we are sure that Icelanders, the Irish, Italians, Serbs and Spaniards are very happy tonight. FIFA.com recaps another entertaining evening in Europe.
Group D: Moldova 1-3 Republic of Ireland, Serbia 3-2 Austria, Wales 1-1 Georgia
Group G: Albania 0-2 Spain, FYR Macedonia 2-3 Italy, Israel 2-1 Liechtenstein
Group I: Finland 0-1 Croatia, Iceland 2-0 Turkey, Ukraine 3-0 Kosovo
Match of the day
FYR Macedonia 2-3 Italy
Nestorovsdki 57, Hasani 59; Belotti 24, Immobile 75 & 92
‘The Rooster’ announced his arrival on the international stage stylishly. Airbound, Andrea Belotti struck Italy ahead. Macedonia were, nevertheless, unfortunate to go in 1-0 down, but their pressure finally paid off when quick-fire goals swung them in front. Rather than attempt to protect their advantage, Goran Pandev and Co continued taking the game to their illustrious guests and only the stunning, age-defying reflexes of 38-year-old Gigi Buffon kept Italy alive. Macedonia were just 15 minutes away from their footballing zenith when Ciro Immobile equalised. Then, in stoppage time, the man from the picturesque city of Torre Annunziata broke Macedonian hearts. What a game!
Etrit Berisha produced a regal first-half display to exasperate several Spaniards, but it was the goalie’s gaffe that gifted the South Africa 2010 champions the opener, with David Silva selflessly allowing Diego Costa to score it. Nolito, just minutes after coming on, sealed the deal in style to keep Spain above Italy on goal difference. Albania are only a point back, level with Israel. Tomer Hemed’s brace took him on to 15 goals in 21 internationals and earned Elisha Levy’s team a close but comfortable 2-1 defeat of Liechtenstein.
Bale moved three behind Ian Rush on Wales’ list of all-time leading marksmen by bagging another header, but that’s where the fun finished for the Dragons. Tornike Okriashvili equalised, Levan Mchedlidze spurned a gilt-edged chance, and Valeri Kazaishvili smashed the crossbar as Georgia grabbed a point that arguably flattered their hosts. A side from across the Irish sea fared far better. James McClean was the two-goal hero as the Republic were worth every cent of their 3-1 win in Chisinau. Martin O'Neill’s men were joined on points at the Group D summit by Serbia, who took the lead three times in a riveting reverse of Austria. Mitrovic stroked home their first and headed home their second, before Dusan Tadic employed pristine technique to volley in the winner.
Croatia and Iceland climbed on to seven points from three games at the top of Group I. Mario Mandzukic’s tap-in header claimed Ante Cacic’s charges victory in Tampere, while Alfred Finnbogason’s volley helped those Thierry Henry described as “everybody’s second-favourite team” beat Turkey 2-0. Ukraine are two points off the pace in third. Their victory over Kosovo in Krakow was foreseen. The party pieces provided by Yarmolenko, and wonder goals from the aforementioned and Ruslam Rotan, were cherished.
Player of the day
“Mitrovic doesn’t need to score to be the best player on the pitch – he chases lost causes, bullies defenders, dominates in the air and brings team-mates into play,” said Serbia coach Slavoljub Muslin in the build-up to Austria hitting Belgrade. The 22-year-old innately did all that (a few Austrians will be sore in the morning!). He also netted twice. Now that’s double value.
89 per cent is Mario Mandzukic’s strike rate for Croatia in 2016 – not bad considering he failed to score at UEFA EURO 2016. The 30-year-old owes Andrej Kramaric a beer for his latest – the 25-year-old’s shot was merely inches from going in when the Juventus striker got his head on it. Kramaric had already jogged of to celebrate ‘his’ goal and only discovered it had been awarded to his team-mate after the game! Mandzukic’s eighth goal in nine internationals this year left him on 28 – one shy of second-placed Eduardo da Silva on Croatia’s list of all-time leading marksmen. Davor Suker, whose classy finishing thrust Croatia to bronze at France 1998, heads it on 45.
Did you know?
Two goals within 142 seconds had Italy en route to losing a World Cup or EURO qualifier for the first time in 53 games until Immobile turned saviour.
Giampiero Ventura: “Ninety per cent of our mistakes came from carelessness, but we gave a great response after that double blow. It takes a strong-minded team to come back from that. And we must not forget the contribution of Buffon.”