World Cup qualifiers: Spain, Italy notch wins; Wales held by Georgia

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.

Wales and its star forward Gareth Bale hit a first major bump on the road to the World Cup.

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.

Albania's Elseid Hysaj fight for the ball with Spain's Diego Costa during their World Cup Group G match. AP

Albania's Elseid Hysaj fight for the ball with Spain's Diego Costa during their World Cup Group G match. AP

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.

Wales 1, Georgia 1

Wales and its star forward Gareth Bale hit a first major bump on the road to the World Cup.

Wales' Gareth Bale reacts after coming close to scoring a second goal during the 2018 World Cup qualifying match. AP

Wales' Gareth Bale reacts after coming close to scoring a second goal during the 2018 World Cup qualifying match. AP

Perhaps unsurprisingly for the Welsh, it was Georgia dealing the blow.

The Georgians haven't lost to Wales in four meetings now after they recovered from conceding a 10th-minute goal to Bale to draw 1-1 against the Euro 2016 semifinalists. The first three matches between the countries all ended as wins for Georgia.

Georgia attacked in waves in the second half and Tornike Okriashvili equalized with a header in the 57th.

Serbia 3, Austria 2

Serbia leads the group on goal differential ahead of Ireland after a 3-2 win over Austria. Wales is two points back and Austria trails by three. Georgia picked up its first point, while Moldova is bottom in the group.

Dusan Tadic scored a 74th-minute winner for Serbia in Belgrade.

Aleksandar Mitrovic twice gave Serbia the lead only for Marcel Sabitzer and Marc Janko to score equalizers for Austria, which had started the round on four points like Serbia.

In Moldova, James McClean scored two goals in the final 21 minutes to help unbeaten Ireland earn a 3-1 win.

Shane Long's second-minute goal for Ireland was canceled out by Igor Bugaev in first-half injury time. McClean scored in the 69th and 76th minutes.

Croatia 1, Finland 0

Croatia stayed atop the group with a 1-0 win at Finland.

Mario Mandzukic hasn't had much luck in front of goal for Juventus this season, but he can't stop scoring for his country.

Fresh off a hat trick against Kosovo, the Croatia star scored the only goal of the game in Finland with a simple finish from point-blank range.

Meanwhile, it's been a tough life on the road for new FIFA member Kosovo.

The loss to Ukraine in a game staged in Poland meant the Kosovans have conceded nine goals this week at neutral venues.

Fresh off a 6-0 "home" loss to Croatia which was actually played in Albania because Kosovo still doesn't have a certified stadium, Kosovo had to face Ukraine in Poland because the Ukrainian government doesn't recognize the tiny Balkan nation's independence.

Artem Kravets, Andriy Yarmolenko and Ruslan Rotan scored for Ukraine.

Iceland 3, Turkey 1

Iceland is showing that its run to the European Championship quarterfinals was no fluke.

The small nation keeps surprising and Turkey was the latest victim at the Laugardalsvollur stadium in Reykjavik, beaten 2-0 thanks to two goals shortly before halftime Sunday in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

The first was an own-goal from center back Omer Toprak before Iceland forward Alfred Finnbogason scored with a volley 90 seconds later, hitting the back of the net for his third international game in succession.

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.

Updated Date: Oct 10, 2016 11:00 AM

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