THE DAY REPLAYED – The initial instalment of the fifth round of European qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ were notable for the big guns confirming their lofty status, Republic of Ireland and Wales playing out a tense draw, and Gianluigi Buffon attaining another remarkable milestone.
FIFA.com *takes a look back at all of Friday’s qualifying action. *
Group D: Georgia 1-3 Serbia, Austria 2-0 Moldova, Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales
Group G: Italy 2-0 Albania, Liechtenstein 0-3 FYR Macedonia, Spain 4-1 Israel
Group I: Turkey 2-0 Finland, Croatia 1-0 Ukraine, Kosovo 1-2 Iceland* *
Match of the day *Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales
Although the high-stakes **Group D clash between Republic of Ireland and Wales looked promising on paper, it is not a match that will remain engraved on the memory of those in attendance in Dublin. Intensity was certainly not lacking, unlike clear-cut scoring opportunities, which were few and far between. Neither goalkeeper was truly tested in the first half, with both teams cancelling each other out and struggling to play a telling final ball.
After having been nullified during the first 45 minutes, Gareth Bale began to find space and angles after the break, causing the watching Irish fans to break out in a cold sweat on more than one occasion. The dismissal of Neil Taylor complicated matters for the Welsh, but the Irish, propelled by Shane Long, were unable to find a way through their opponents’ resilient rearguard, despite coming close through James McClean.
* Elsewhere *Serbia sent a strong message to their rivals in Group D by coming from behind to pull off a 3-1 win in Georgia. Dusan Tadic, who has been on excellent form during this qualifying campaign, was involved in all three goals, scoring the equaliser from the penalty spot and setting up the other two. Austria, meanwhile, secured a hard-earned victory over Moldova (2-0) and remain in the hunt for a spot at Russia 2018.
Group G top stories
Spain and Italy both scored within the opening quarter of an hour to remove any element of doubt in their comfortable home wins over Israel (4-1) and Albania (2-0), respectively. In doing so, they maintained their unbeaten record and their shared lead at the top of Group G, and increased the likelihood that their duel on 2 September will decide the outcome of the pool. In the other match, FYR Macedonia made light work of Liechtenstein (3-0) to leave Rene Pauritsch’s men rooted to the bottom of the table.
Group I top stories
In Group I, Turkey emerged from their home game with Finland with three points (2-0), courtesy of two early Cenk Tosun goals and some solid defending thereafter. The Turks can still entertain legitimate hopes of qualifying and even winning the section, while the Scandinavians, who lacked penetration throughout, have taken just one point from five matches. Croatia played well to defeat Ukraine 1-0 – via a superb first-half goal by Nikola Kalinic – and to retain top spot ahead of Iceland, who got back on track with a closely contested 2-1 success in Kosovo.
* Player of the day Spain have been quietly impressive during their qualifying campaign for Russia 2018, and currently look a good bet to make up for their premature exit at Brazil 2014. Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta all played a part in *La Roja’s 4-1 triumph over Israel, but it was *David Silva who stood out, demonstrating his trademark dribbles and nose for goal. In addition, the 31-year-old attacking midfielder nabbed the opener for the Spaniards in Gijon – his 29th international strike, a total that moves him up to joint fourth (level with Fernando Hierro) in his country’s all-time scoring charts.* *
1,000 – The number of professional matches in which Gianluigi Buffon *has now competed, following Italy’s match with Albania on Friday. The legendary goalkeeper, aged 39, also surpassed the number of international caps amassed by his Spanish counterpart Iker Casillas (168 to 167), a European record. Yet another clean sheet represented the icing on the cake for the veteran custodian. **
*Did you know? *One of the curious quirks of the Republic of Ireland-Wales encounter in Group D was the number of players who are usually team-mates at club level but who found themselves on opposite sides of the pitch on Friday. James McCarthy and Ashley Williams play together at Everton, as do Darren Randolph and James Collins at West Ham United, Stephen Ward, Jeff Hendrick and Sam Vokes play for Burnley, James McClean and Hal Robson-Kanu are West Bromwich Albion team-mates, and Glenn Whelan, Jonathan Walters and Joe Allen are Stoke City players.
* What they said "We knew they were going to set up like that, make it very difficult for us to get on the ball. In the first half, they definitely did that. In the second half, I thought we controlled the game very well. We created some good chances and we were unlucky not to get a goal. If you look at the last 20 minutes, playing with ten men, a point is not the worst result."
*Wales winger Gareth Bale on his side's 0-0 draw with Republic of Ireland in Dublin