Spain book Russia spot with comfy defeat of Albania
Spain 3 - 0 Albania

Spain book Russia spot with comfy defeat of Albania

06/10/2017

Spain sealed their place in next year's World Cup finals with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Albania in a match which saw La Roja centre-back Gerard Pique once again the target of whistles and jeers.

First-half goals from Rodrigo, Isco and Thiago helped make it eight wins from nine matches in Group G for Julen Lopetegui's unbeaten side.

The 2010 world champions are now guaranteed to finish in top spot as Italy - who started the day three points behind in second - could only draw at home to FYR Macedonia in what was the penultimate round of fixtures.

Pique's night at Alicante's Jose Rico Perez stadium did not run quite so serenely, however.

The Barcelona defender has found himself headline news and in the firing line following last weekend's controversial independence referendum in Catalonia.

Pique, a vocal supporter of Catalan independence, voted in the violence-hit election that been declared illegal by the Spanish government, and then later offered to quit La Roja if his presence became a problem.

Pique has since found support from within the national team, but has also been the subject of boos from irate Spain fans throughout the week.

The 30-year-old was under fire again during Friday's clash with Albania, with a mixed reception when his name was read out ahead of kick-off followed by boos when he touched the ball - although there was applause for the big centre-back as well.

Those early jeers soon turned to cheers for the rest of the Spain side, though, as they swatted aside Albania in devastating style in the first half.

The contest was as good as over inside half-an-hour as the hosts raced into a 3-0 lead, with Rodrigo opening the scoring in the 16th minute.

The Valencia forward controlled an Isco pass on his chest on the edge of the area before stretching to send a superb left-footed half-volley past visiting goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Isco then made it 2-0 in the 24th minute, firing a thunderous shot into the roof of the net after being picked out by Koke, before Thiago added a third four minutes later.

Debutant Alvaro Odriozola did well down the right before lofting over an inviting cross that Thiago raced on to before powering home an unstoppable header.

Spain continued to push for more goals and almost added a fourth in the 52nd minute when Rodrigo drew a good save from Berisha.

Soon after that Pique was replaced, having picked up a yellow card at the start of the second half which means he will be suspended for Monday's final match against Israel.

Pique left the pitch to another mixed reception - although the Barcelona man applauded the fans as he made his way off - and his departure ended up coinciding with Albania's best spell of the match.

They hit the post through Armando Sadiku's header before David De Gea was called upon to deny Liridon Latifi and Sadiku fired another effort over.

However, there were no other late scares for Spain as they secured a victory which - combined with Italy's slip-up - means La Roja will be heading to Russia.

Related news

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying

The seedings for the 2018 World Cup finals draw can now be confirmed after Peru booked the 32nd and last place at next summer's tournament in Russia.

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure

Gian Piero Ventura has been sacked as coach of Italy after failing to guide them to next summer's World Cup, the Italian Football Federation has announced.

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick

Christian Eriksen's hat trick helped Denmark qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a 5-1 win over Republic of Ireland, whose hopes ended in the UEFA playoffs once more.

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, as Sweden secured their spot in Russia after the teams' 0-0 draw on Monday in Milan.

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece

Croatia comfortably negotiated the second leg of their play-off tie against Greece with a goalless draw sealing their place at next summer's World Cup.

Northern Ireland's finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending

Northern Ireland's finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending

Northern Ireland saw their World Cup dream die in Basel on Sunday, though it was a controversial penalty three days earlier that ultimately sent Switzerland through to Russia.

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate

Darren Randolph was the Republic of Ireland's hero as they returned from Denmark with a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw after surviving a stern test of their World Cup credentials.

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy

Italy must beat Sweden at San Siro on Monday to have any hope of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia after Jakob Johansson condemned the Azzurri to a 1-0 first-leg defeat in Stockholm.

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia put one foot toward a place in Russia next year with a 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Thursday.

RELATED NEWS

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying
World Cup 2018 news

World Cup finals draw pots now known after completion of qualifying

The seedings for the 2018 World Cup finals draw can now be confirmed after Peru booked the 32nd and last place at next summer's tournament in Russia.

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure
Italy news

Gian Piero Ventura sacked by Italy following World Cup failure

Gian Piero Ventura has been sacked as coach of Italy after failing to guide them to next summer's World Cup, the Italian Football Federation has announced.

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick
Republic of Ireland 1 - 5 Denmark

Denmark reach World Cup, doom Ireland after Eriksen's hat trick

Christian Eriksen's hat trick helped Denmark qualify for the 2018 World Cup with a 5-1 win over Republic of Ireland, whose hopes ended in the UEFA playoffs once more.

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw
Italy 0 - 0 Sweden

Italy eliminated as resilient Sweden earn draw

Italy have failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, as Sweden secured their spot in Russia after the teams' 0-0 draw on Monday in Milan.

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece
Greece 0 - 0 Croatia

Croatia cruise into World Cup finals after second-leg draw vs. Greece

Croatia comfortably negotiated the second leg of their play-off tie against Greece with a goalless draw sealing their place at next summer's World Cup.

Northern Ireland's finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending
Switzerland 0 - 0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's finals dream crushed by Switzerland in dramatic ending

Northern Ireland saw their World Cup dream die in Basel on Sunday, though it was a controversial penalty three days earlier that ultimately sent Switzerland through to Russia.

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate
Denmark 0 - 0 Republic of Ireland

Ireland hold Denmark to first leg stalemate

Darren Randolph was the Republic of Ireland's hero as they returned from Denmark with a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw after surviving a stern test of their World Cup credentials.

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy
Sweden 1 - 0 Italy

Johansson strikes as Sweden take upper hand against Italy

Italy must beat Sweden at San Siro on Monday to have any hope of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia after Jakob Johansson condemned the Azzurri to a 1-0 first-leg defeat in Stockholm.

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg
Croatia 4 - 1 Greece

Croatia open three-goal lead over Greece after playoff first leg

Croatia put one foot toward a place in Russia next year with a 4-1 win over Greece in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Thursday.