Italy wins late to keep pace with Spain in Group G
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) Italy kept Spain from opening a significant advantage atop Group G by scoring two late goals and salvaging a 3-2 win at Macedonia on Sunday in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Spain got off to a slow start at Albania but eased to a 2-0 victory behind second-half goals by Diego Costa and Manuel ''Nolito'' Agudo.
Italy needed an injury-time goal by Ciro Immobile to secure the hard-fought win that allowed it to join Spain atop the group with seven points.
Albania stayed with six points along with Israel, which beat Liechtenstein 2-1.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
Macedonia and Liechtenstein remain without a point after three matches.
ALBANIA 0, SPAIN 2
Spain dominated from the start as expected, but it struggled to create many significant scoring chances against Albania in steady rain at the Loro Borici Stadium in Shkoder.
The first goal came after a mistake by Albanian goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, who mis-hit the ball while trying to clear it from the back and gave it to Vitolo. The striker passed to David Silva and he set up Costa's easy goal from inside the area in the 55th minute.
The second goal was a well-placed shot by Nolito, who found the far corner from a tight angle after evading a defender inside the area in the 63rd.
''It could seem like an easy game but we knew it was going to be complicated,'' Nolito said. ''We really needed these three points.''
Albania entered the match with a two-point advantage over Spain and Italy, which drew 1-1 when they met in Turin on Thursday.
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui tried a different tactical scheme, playing with three defenders at the back and an extra man in midfield.
Captain Sergio Ramos had to be replaced near the end because of a knee injury.
Spain has won all six games against Albania.
''That is a normal loss,'' Albania midfielder Ledian Memushaj said. ''It is very difficult to play against them.''
MACEDONIA 2, ITALY 3
Italy seemed in control against Macedonia after Andrea Belotti scored in the 24th minute, but goals by Ilija Nestorovski in the 57th and Ferhan Hasani in the 59th, both times after Italian giveaways, left the visitors in danger of a shock defeat.
Immobile equalized in the 75th and netted the important winner with a close-range header two minutes into second-half injury time, keeping Italy in a strong position.
It trails Spain on goal difference.
''It was a great response by the team as far as character is concerned,'' Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura said.
ISRAEL 2, LIECHTENSTEIN 1
Israel picked up its second consecutive win by beating winless Liechtenstein 2-1 behind a pair of goals by Tomer Hemed.
The striker scored in the fourth and 16th minutes in the match in Jerusalem.
Maximilian Goppel pulled the visitors closer early in the second half, but Israel hung on to the victory.
Liechtenstein is proving to be the weaker team in the group after being outscored 12-1 in its first three matches.