THE DAY REPLAYED–* *The much-anticipated FIFA World Cup™ qualifying clash between Italy and Spain lived up to expectations in terms of intensity, but the final score – a 1-1 draw – did not suit either team and enabled Albania to move to the top of Group G. Elsewhere, Croatia made light work of Kosovo, while Iceland pulled off a dramatic win in stoppage time.
FIFA.com reviews the action from Thursday’s UEFA qualifiers.
ResultsGroup D: Austria 2-2 Wales, Republic of Ireland 1-0 Georgia, Moldova 0-3 Serbia
Group G: Italy 1-1 Spain, Liechtenstein 0-2 Albania, FYR Macedonia 1-2 Israel
Group I: Kosovo 0-6 Croatia, Iceland 3-2 Finland, Turkey 2-2 Ukraine
Match of the dayItaly 1-1 Spain*
*Victor Vitolo 55’ (Spain); Daniele De Rossi 82’ (Italy)
*The atmosphere was electric at Juventus Stadium for the 36th confrontation between the European powerhouses of Italy and Spain, which also happened to be their first-ever meeting in World Cup qualifying. After having been swept aside by Italy in the Round of 16 of UEFA EURO 2016, *La Roja went into attack mode right from the outset of the encounter, but struggled to create truly threatening opportunities despite completely dominating possession.
In the end, it was a huge, uncharacteristic mistake by Gianluigi Buffon that led to the deadlock being broken. The veteran goalkeeper, who had not had much to do up to that point, mistimed his attempt to clear a through ball from midfield and let in Victor Vitolo, who could not quite believe his luck as he rolled the ball into an empty net (55', 0-1).
This incident appeared to bring La Nazionale back to life, and a series of attacks on the Spain goal eventually culminated in Eder being awarded a penalty, which Daniele De Rossi converted with aplomb.
ElsewhereWales were forced to settle for just one point in Austria, despite having led at half-time. A second-half strike from Marko Arnautovic, his second of the match, put a spanner in the works for Chris Coleman’s men, but the 2-2 draw still maintains their spot at the summit of Group D. In second place lie Serbia, who recorded a resounding 3-0 victory in Moldova, while Ireland beat Georgia 1-0 at home courtesy of a slightly fortunate Seamus Coleman goal.
In Group G, meanwhile, Albania registered their second consecutive win against Liechtenstein (2-0) to take sole possession of first place above Spain and Italy. Israel came out on top of a closely contested duel with FYR Macedonia (2-1), who missed a penalty towards the end.
There was action and turnarounds galore in Group I, where Kosovo, fresh from claiming a historic point in Finland, found the going tough at home to a rampant Croatia, for whom Mario Mandzukic notched a hat-trick in a 6-0 success.
Croatia now sit on top of the section, ahead of Iceland, who were involved in an incredible denouement at home to Finland, scoring in the last minute and then again in injury time to secure a memorable 3-2 triumph and earn a trademark 'thunderclap' from their supporters. Finally, Ukraine may harbour some regrets from their trip to Turkey, having led 2-0 within half an hour but eventually drawing 2-2.
Player of the dayDeprived of a number of regular starters, Croatia relied on a top-notch performance from Mario Mandzukic to dispose of Kosovo. Despite finding playing time hard to come by at Juventus this season due to the excellent form of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, the 30-year-old striker demonstrated that he had lost none of his sharpness, opening the scoring with a fine chipped finish and later adding two headers to complete a first-half hat-trick.
The number 15 – Few would argue against Gareth Bale being a crucial component in Wales’ starting XI, but the team's statistics reveal how essential he really is. Since September 2014, the Real Madrid star has been directly involved in over half of the Dragons’ goals: out of 28 total goals, Bale has scored 12 and set up three.
Did you know?Andriy Yarmolenko and Hakan Calhanoglu put in mirror-image performances on Thursday evening: the former opened the scoring for Ukraine from the penalty spot prior to providing an assist for his country’s second goal, while the latter set up Turkey’s first and then put away a penalty to equalise.