Spain became the fifth UEFA member nation to book their place in the 2018 World Cup, joining Belgium, Germany, England and hosts Russia in the summer showcase. Nations that have qualified from other regions so far include Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea.
Spain began the day three points ahead of Italy in qualifying Group G, and wasted no time in taking care of business against Albania, scoring three goals in the space of 10 first-half minutes, with Isco once again in a starring role. Valencia’s Rodrigo started in place of the injured Morata and opened the scoring with just 16 minutes on the clock; Isco and Thiago added a second and third before the clock read 26. Neither Pedro nor Cesar Azpilicueta got any playing time, with the latter getting the snub in favor of debutant Álvaro Odriozola.
Italy needed a win to keep pace but they failed to do so against lowly Macedonia. The Azzurri labored into a first-half lead, but did not much of anything for most of the second and the visitors nicked a well-earned equalizer. It was a rather strange and scattered game with very little flow.
Chelsea new boy David Zappacosta played the full 90 in a right wing-back role and in addition to missing a glorious chance, was involved in Italy’s first goal, recovering the ball from the corner clearance to keep the pressure on the defense. The ball was eventually worked across the width of the pitch to Immobile, who picked out Chiellini, still up from the corner, unmarked in the middle to slot home. Italy are thus destined for the qualification play-offs as second place finishers in the group, though there is a small chance that they end as the worst of the second place finishers and thus miss out. That would surely be a disaster for the Azzurri.
Elsewhere, Mario Pasalic made a substitute appearance in Croatia’s 1-1 draw with Turkey and Ethan Ampadu watched from the bench as Wales notched another big win, 1-0 over Georgia in a very tight Group C (Serbia, Wales, and Ireland are separated by two points heading into the final matchday). Tammy Abraham also got a goal, from the penalty spot for England U21, adding an assist as well for Dominic Solanke in England’s 3-1 win over Scotland.