Spain routs Israel; Italy beats Albania after delay in UEFA World Cup qualifying group
GIJON, Spain (AP) – Spain and Italy both scored early on their way to comfortable home victories that extended their lead in Group G of European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Spain defeated Israel 4-1 in Gijon, while Italy beat Albania 2-0 in Palermo in a match halted for nearly nine minutes after Albania fans threw flares onto the pitch.
The victories moved Spain and Italy to 13 points from five matches. Israel stayed with nine points and Albania six.
Only the nine European group winners are guaranteed to reach the World Cup, while the eight best runners-up face a playoff.
Second-to-last-place Macedonia earned its first points with a 3-0 win at last-place Liechtenstein.
Here is a look at the Group G matches Friday:
ITALY 2, ALBANIA 0
Italy kept its cool as the flares rained down to ease to a victory over Albania as captain Gianluigi Buffon marked his 1,000th match with a clean sheet.
The match had to be suspended in the 57th after Albania fans threw flares onto the pitch.
The referee had already stopped the match for about a minute in the first half when flares were thrown by the visiting fans after Italy was awarded a penalty that Daniele De Rossi converted in the 12th.
An announcement was made warning fans their team could face sanctions if they continued and it had to be repeated in the 55th, but that only sparked the lighting of more flares.
Albania captain Ansi Agolli appealed to the fans before play resumed.
Ciro Immobile doubled Italy's lead in the 71st, heading in Davide Zappacosta's cross from the right flank.
The 39-year-old Buffon had little to do in his 1,000th appearance as a professional although Italy did have to survive an early scare when Sokol Cikalleshi fired inches wide of the right post after just 48 seconds.
Buffon made his debut at the age of 17 in 1995, playing for Parma, before moving to Juventus in 2001.
It was Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura's first victory on Italian soil since taking over from Antonio Conte after the 2016 European Championship.
SPAIN 4, ISRAEL 1
Spain was in control from the start against Israel, picking up the easy victory to open a four-point gap to the Israelis.
David Silva opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a close-range shot after a nice pass by Jordi Alba through the legs of a defender, and Victor ''Vitolo'' Machin added to the lead in first-half stoppage time with another shot from inside the area.
Diego Costa scored the third goal early in the second half with a header off a corner, and substitute Francisco ''Isco'' Alarcon added the fourth just before the final whistle.
Israel rarely got near the Spanish area, getting its lone goal with a shot from inside the box by Lior Refaelov in the 76th.
Refaelov had forced Spain goalkeeper David de Gea to make a superb save on a header before halftime in the only time Israel significantly threatened the hosts in the first period.
Thiago Alcantara and Silva both struck the woodwork for Spain.
LIECHTENSTEIN 0, MACEDONIA 3
Macedonia put an end to its four-game losing streak with a goal by Boban Nikolov before halftime and two by Ilija Nestorovski in the second half.
Liechtenstein has lost every game in the group so far, being outscored 19-1.