Italy beats Albania 1-0 to secure top seed status in playoff
By DANIELLA MATAR
Oct. 09, 2017
Italy scraped past Albania 1-0 in its last World Cup qualifier, another poor effort which will do little to inspire confidence in coach Gian Piero Ventura and his team.
Italy was already guaranteed second spot and a playoff berth from Europe Group G, and Antonio Candreva's second-half goal ensured it of top-seed status in the draw.
The Azzurri finished five points behind Spain, which won in Israel 1-0. Macedonia beat Liechtenstein 4-0 in the match between the two bottom sides in the group.
"I didn't celebrate when Candreva scored, it seemed right that we were in front, but I was happy, above all for the lads," Ventura said. "We have some limitations at the moment but today there was the desire to try and do things.
"These were the aims that we set ourselves before. We took another small step forward but we continue to give the ball away. ... But I'm happy for them, this is a good group, with a few limitations because of certain absences."
Italy and Ventura came under fire on Friday following a dismal 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia.
Without injured key players such as Claudio Marchisio, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti and Andrea Belotti, Ventura opted to employ an experimental 4-2-4 formation in Shkoder.
However, the Italian visitors struggled to create anything of note and Ciro Immobile had their only shot on target of the first half but it was saved by goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.
Italy was denied what looked a clear cut penalty shortly before halftime when Eder's cross was stopped by the arm of Freddie Veseli but the referee waved off Azzurri appeals.
Albania grew in confidence and almost scored just after the hour mark but Gianluigi Buffon reacted well to parry Eros Grezda's swerving effort — and then shouted in fury at Italy defender Davide Zappacosta.
Italy broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute when Leonardo Spinazzola put in a precise cross from the left to the far post for Candreva to fire into the roof of the net.
Spain ended its European qualifying campaign by beating Israel 1-0 in Jerusalem thanks to a long-range strike by Asier Illarramendi.
Spain played without most of its regular starters because it secured a World Cup spot in advance. Israel was already out of contention.
Illarramendi, one of the players who hadn't played often, scored his first international goal in the 76th minute with a shot from outside the area, curling the ball into the top corner.
Spain finished unbeaten in Group G with nine wins and a 1-1 draw against Italy in Turin last year.
Liechtenstein concluded one of the worst qualifying campaigns ever with a 4-0 loss to Macedonia.
It finished bottom of the group after losing all 10 of its matches and with a record of 39 goals against and just one for.
Visar Musliu and Aleksandar Trajkovski netted in the first half for Macedonia and Enis Bardi and Arijan Ademi extended the hosts' lead after the interval.
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup