THE DAY REPLAYED – Friday was another day of twists and turns in the European qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, leaving everything still to play for in Groups D and I.
Not so in Group G, where FYR Macedonia earned a surprise draw away to Italy to condemn La Azzurra to the play-offs – subject to confirmation – and ensure Spain progress to the World Cup as section winners.
Match of the day Austria 3-2 Serbia Serbia travelled to Vienna knowing that a win would take them to Russia 2018. Though they took an early lead, their hosts, who had nothing to play for, were the better side and struck twice to turn the match around, despite the inspired efforts of Vladimir Stojkovic in the visiting goal. Serbian hopes were revived when Nemanja Matic made it 2-2 with seven minutes remaining, only for them to be dashed again a minute from time, when Louis Schaub popped up with the winner for the Austrians. Serbia now need to beat Georgia in their final game to avoid having to depend on results elsewhere.
*Elsewhere Group* D Georgia 0-1 Wales Republic of Ireland 2-0 Moldova Austria 3-2 Serbia
Serbia stay top, though their lead was trimmed to a single point by Wales, who won in Georgia. Republic of Ireland lie one point further back, following their home defeat of Moldova. The Welsh and Irish will now face off in Cardiff with second place at stake, and quite possibly first. After all, Serbia should take nothing for granted against the Georgians, who made life hard for the men in red inTbilisi.
Group G Liechtenstein 0-1 Israel Italy 1-1 FYR Macedonia Spain 3-0 Albania
Spain had no problems disposing of Albania, whose faint hopes of claiming a play-off place finally evaporated. First-half goals from Rodrigo, Isco and Thiago settled the issue. The surprise of the night came in Turin, where Italy endured an uncomfortable night and were indebted to centre-back Giorgio Chiellini for giving them the lead. It was not enough, however, with Aleksandar Trajkovski’s 77th-minute strike putting paid to Italy’s bid for top spot and allowing Spain to sail into next year’s World Cup with a game to spare.
Group I Kosovo 0-2 Ukraine Turkey 0-3 Iceland Croatia 1-1 Finland
Iceland thoroughly enjoyed their away day. In ending Turkey’s World Cup dreams, they shot to the top of the section, taking a two point-lead over Croatia and Ukraine, the two remaining qualification contenders in the group, who are tied on 17 points. Held at home by Finland, the Croatians now face a make-or-break trip to Ukraine for their final game, while Iceland will seal their place in Russia if they can beat bottom-placed Kosovo.
Player of the day The Ernst Happel stadium is usually a happy hunting ground for Marko Arnautovic, who has scored all four of his World Cup qualifying goals there. The West Ham United forward did not celebrate the one that came his way tonight, however. And nor did Austria’s late winner seem to bring him much pleasure. The reason for that was simple: his father is Serbian, and Arnautovic knew full well that he would be suffering as a result of his efforts and Austria’s hard-fought win