Iceland on path to World Cup with 3-0 win at Turkey
ESKISEHIR, Turkey (AP) — Iceland stayed on the path to becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup after beating Turkey 3-0 on Friday.
With Finland surprisingly holding Croatia to 1-1, and Ukraine taking three points from Kosovo after a 2-0 away win, the tightest group in European qualifying will have to be decided on Monday in the last round of matches.
Iceland tops Group I with 19 points, and Croatia and Ukraine are two points behind. Turkey is out of contention with 14 as well as Finland with 8.
Iceland is a clear favorite when it hosts Kosovo in its last qualifier, while Croatia has to travel to Ukraine for a tough encounter.
Keeping the momentum going from its inspiring run to the 2016 European Championship quarterfinals, Iceland withstood Turkey’s early pressure before Johann Gudmundsson sent the ball high into the net past goalkeeper Volkan Babacan in the 32nd minute.
Jon Bodvarsson provided a precise cross from the left for the opening goal and seven minutes later he also set up the second for Birkir Bjarnason to shock the packed stadium in Eskisehir.
Kari Arnason added the third from close range four minutes into the second half after Aron Gunnarsson headed to him a corner kick.
Led by playmaker Luka Modric who made his 100th international appearance, Croatia had to wait till the second half for a goal despite holding the upper hand.
Striker Mario Manduzkic finally netted in the 58th after a defender deflected to him. That seemed to be a winner.
But substitute Pyry Soiri equalized in the final minute to stun the Croatian favorites.
Mandzukic also scored Croatia’s lone goal in their previous meeting in Finland in October 2016.
Kosovo produced some decent defending against Ukraine but it was Leart Paqarada who scored an own goal on the hour to give the visitors a lead. Andriy Yarmolenko added the second three minutes from time.
With the eighth straight defeat, Kosovo has been taught a lesson in its first qualifying for a major tournament. It sits at the bottom of the table with a single point in its maiden qualifying campaign.
Kosovo was accepted by UEFA and FIFA last year, and fast-tracked into World Cup qualifying.
The match was in Albania’s Shkoder as Kosovo does not have a FIFA-certified stadium.