REGGIO EMILIA -  Ciro Immobile's second half header got Italy back to winning ways in a 1-0 victory over Israel in Reggio Emilia on Tuesday to move them closer to the 2018 World Cup. After losing 3-0 to Spain at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, Italy needed a win to continue to aspire to first place in Group G, leading to automatic qualification.

Italy still have a remote chance of finishing first as they sit three points behind Spain with two games left, but the play-offs look increasingly likely. Spain top the table after routing Liechtenstein 8-0.

The three points in the Mapei Stadium helped Italy consolidate second place in Group G, six points clear of third-placed Albania, who were held 1-1 by Macedonia. "It is clear that the result was the priority, but I am happy," said coach Giampiero Ventura. "We spent 80 minutes in the opposition half, although we did not do well in the first half. It is a small step that should convince us to do better."

Italy, without injured Giorgio Chiellini and suspended Leonardo Bonucci, were far from convincing after their demolition by Spain. Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, one of the most prominent players in the game against Spain, barely improved his performance and also picked up a yellow card that will prevent him from playing against Macedonia in October. He was jeered as he left the pitch. The hosts who could have pulled ahead from the first minute with Torino forward Andrea Belotti sending right of Ariel Harush in the Israel goal.

After the break Italy improved, with a clear first chance for Immobile (48). Five minutes later the Lazio striker opened the scoring with a header from an excellent centre by Antonio Candreva. "We needed a victory, it's a positive thing, it's a game that is unlocked by scoring fast," said Candreva. "After the goal everything was easier."

Israel playing without captain Eran Zahavi who quit international football in disgust after his side were jeered by home fans in Haifa on Saturday in a shock loss to Macedonia, suffered their fifth defeat of the campaign.

Italy next have games against Macedonia in Turin and Albania away in October. The last time Italy had to go through play-offs was in 1997 on the road to the 1998 World Cup in France.

 

Results

Serbia 1-0 Republic of Ireland

Wales 2-0 Moldova

Austria 1-1 Georgia

Italy 1-0 Israel

Spain 8-0 Liechtenstein

Macedonia 1-1 Albania

Finland 1-0 Kosovo

Iceland 2-0 Ukraine

Turkey 1-0 Croatia

 

AFP