THE DAY REPLAYED - A galloping Welshman proved unplayable. Two goalkeepers proved infallible. A few Spaniards proved goal-thirsty. Penalties, missed penalties and a series of first international goals proved pivotal on an entertaining night of FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers in Europe. Here, *FIFA.com *wraps it up.
*Group D: *Georgia 1-2 Austria, Serbia 2-2 Republic of Ireland, Wales 4-0 Moldova
*Group G: *Israel 1-3 Italy, Spain 8-0 Liechtenstein
*Group I: Croatia 1-1 Turkey, Finland 1-1 Kosovo, Ukraine 1-1 Iceland
*Note: *Albania-Macedonia was abandoned, with the score at 1-1, due to heavy storms and will be concluded on Tuesday.
*Match of the day *
Israel 1-3 Italy
*Pelle 16, Candreva (pen) 31, Ben Haim 35, Immobile 83 *
A Graziano Pelle tap-in and an Antonio Candreva penalty had Italy cruising, but two uncharacteristic howlers from Giorgio Chiellini turned the game on its head. First the 32-year-old gifted possession to Tal Ben Haim, who sumptuously chipped Gianluigi Buffon to halve the deficit. Then Chiellini pocketed a second yellow card and a consequent red that will rule him out of next month’s decisive showdown with Spain. Isreal took the game to their opponents thereafter, and Italy required Buffon to perform heroics and Marco Verratti to play through the pain barrier – Giampiero Ventura had used all three substitutions – to keep them ahead. The pressure was relentless until a fine goal from Ciro Immobile put the game to bed late on.
Julen Lopetegui observed that “goal difference could be crucial” in determining the outcome of a pool also featuring fellow World Cup winners Italy – his players took heed. After a first half in which they unsurprisingly monopolised position but surprisingly scored just once, they hit six unanswered goals after the break. Diego Costa beat Alvaro Morata in the battle to spearhead Spain’s side, and after the former scored twice, the latter replaced him and did the same.
Some spellbinding step-overs from Marco Arnautovic facilitated Marc Janko putting Austria 2-0 up in Georgia. After the latter had then missed a sitter to extend the lead, a Jano Ananidze piledriver meant Marcel Koller’s men had to eke out a 2-1 win. Wales had no such worries as Moldova simply had no answer to Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid man set up the first with a devilish cross, sped away from the defence to dink home the third, and won and scored a penalty in a 4-0 win. The section’s other game was more dramatic. Jeff Hendrick’s deflected shot put Ireland ahead early on. Filip Kostic’s first drew Serbia level. The hosts then laid siege to the Irish goal and appeared to have got their reward when Dusan Tadic’s penalty edged them ahead. After they had hit the woodwork twice and Ireland had had a goal disallowed, however, Daryl Murphy’s maiden goal for his country snatched a 2-2 draw.
Group I’s three games produced three 1-1 draws – ones Croatia and Ukraine will rue. Croatia beat Turkey 16-5 on shots and 9-1 on corners, but despite Ivan Rakitic giving them a 44th-minute lead, Turkey equalised immediately and that’s somehow how it finished, while Yevhen Konoplyanka missed a penalty late on in Kyiv to win it. Kosovo, meanwhile, gave a stellar account of themselves in their first competitive match, with Valon Berisha’s leveller from the spot securing a point.
*Player of the day *
Volkan Babacan was widely criticised for being beaten by Luka Modric’s volley in Turkey’s UEFA EURO 2016 curtain-raiser. Coach Fatih Terim rejected calls to drop the 28-year-old goalkeeper for the sides’ reunion, and he was repaid with a supreme performance in Zagreb. Babacan commanded his box with aplomb and made a series of fine saves, especially one which left Marko Pjaca gasping in disbelief.
*The number *
28 international goals have now been scored by David Silva, with his brace Leon elevating him above Emilio Butragueno and Fernando Morientes and into fifth on Spain’s list of all-time leading marksmen. Only David Villa (59), Raul (44), Fernando Torres (38) and Fernando Hierro (29) have netted more goals for La Roja.
*Did you know? *
Joe Allen’s goal was his first for Wales since debuting in 2009. Gareth Bale’s brace leapt him above Ivor Allchurch and Trevor Ford and into second of the Dragons’ list of all-time leadin scorers, four behind 28-goal Ian Rush.
What they said
“We certainly had the luck today. If Janko had made it 3-0, it would have been over. We didn’t find our rhythm, but we’ve managed to fulfil our duty. The victory was very important not only for our qualification hopes, but also for the atmosphere in the squad," Marcel Koller, *Austria coach*