• Spain moved ever closer to securing a World Cup spot on Saturday, while Serbia took an outright lead of Group D.
By Associated Press
September 02, 2017

Two first-half strikes by Francisco "Isco" Alarcon helped Spain beat Italy 3-0 Saturday and move closer to securing a World Cup spot.

Isco got the best of Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon from a free kick early in the game, then outsmarted the Italian defense with a low shot just before halftime at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

The result left Spain in control of Group G with 19 points, three more than the Italians, with three games left in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Both Italy and Spain had won all their group matches apart from a 1-1 draw against each other in Turin.

Only the group winner automatically qualifies.

Spain's final qualifiers are at last-placed Liechtenstein on Tuesday, against third-placed Albania on Oct. 6 and at Israel on Oct. 9.

Italy has games left against Israel, Macedonia and Albania.

Substitute Alvaro Morata scored Spain's third goal in the second half.

Also Saturday, Albania needed two second-half goals to beat last-placed Liechtenstein 2-0 to stay within reach of the group leaders.

Macedonia beat Israel 1-0 in Haifa.


Finland 1, Iceland 0 

TAMPERE, Finland (AP) — Finland handed an upset 1-0 defeat to Iceland on Saturday to win its first match in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Finland earned just a single point from the previous six qualifiers—a draw against Kosovo—while Iceland kept momentum from its inspiring run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals to lead Group I with Croatia.

But Finland did everything right this time.

First, Alexander Ring netted a free kick nine minutes into the game, and then the Finnish defense held firm to frustrate Iceland.

In what is the tightest European group, Croatia has a solid goal-difference advantage over second-placed Iceland and should take the outright lead later Saturday against visiting Kosovo in Zagreb.

Croatia and Iceland are both on 13 points, two more than Turkey and Ukraine which meet later Saturday.

Finland has four points, three more than last-placed Kosovo.

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Serbia 3, Moldova 0 

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia relied on Mijat Gacinovic and Aleksandar Kolarov to beat Moldova 3-0 Saturday and take control of Group D in World Cup European qualifying.

Sharing the group lead with Ireland before the game, Serbia went top outright after victory in Belgrade while its rival was held to a 1-1 draw at Georgia.

With three more games to play, Serbia leads with 15 points, with Ireland on 13. The two play each other in Dublin on Tuesday in a potentially decisive matchup.

Wales and Austria meet in Cardiff later Saturday with both teams five points behind Ireland. Whichever team loses will likely be out of realistic contention for a top-two finish.

With Serbia dominating its opponent in heavy rain in Belgrade, Gacinovic netted a cross provided by Kolarov from the left flank to open the scoring in the 20th minute. Just 10 minutes later, it was Gacinovic from the right who did the same for Kolarov to tap in from close range.

Aleksandar Mitrovic finished the scoring for Serbia nine minutes from time.