Italy in play-offs after Bosnia lose

MILAN • Italy were ensured a play-off place thanks to Bosnia and Herzegovina's 4-3 home defeat by Belgium in their World Cup qualifier on Saturday.

The Azzurri will attempt to return to winning ways in Albania today following Friday's poor 1-1 draw against Macedonia in Turin.

"I have to take Italy to the World Cup." Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon told Football Italia. "It's my most important challenge."

The best eight runners-up in the nine European groups go into the play-off round and Italy, already certain of finishing second in Group G, are guaranteed to be one of them.

They have 14 points, not including the six they won against bottom team Liechtenstein which are discarded during the calculation. Bosnia's defeat means that whoever finishes second in Group H will not have more than 13 once their points against bottom team Gibraltar have been subtracted.

Belgium had already booked their berth before Saturday and kept their unbeaten record intact after a come-from-behind victory.

The Balkan nation led 2-1 before Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi equalised on the hour mark and Jan Vertonghen, on his 96th cap, put Belgium ahead.

Defender Dario Djumic rekindled Bosnia's hopes with a 82nd-minute header, only for Yannick Carrasco to score less than a minute later.

It was a night to remember for Vertonghen, who drew level with Jan Ceulemans as Belgium's most-capped player. "So proud to equal the appearance record," wrote the Tottenham defender on Twitter. "Even better with a win and a goal!"

For Marouane Fellaini and Manchester United, however, there are concerns as the midfielder picked up a knee injury and is expected to be sidelined for at least a fortnight.

Fellaini has been pivotal to United's unbeaten start to the season, but lasted just 29 minutes against Bosnia before limping off after landing awkwardly on his knee.

Following an MRI scan yesterday, the Belgian Football Association said he "will be out for a couple of weeks with a knee injury".

United manager Jose Mourinho had voiced concerns over how the international break could stall his side's form ahead of Saturday's big clash against Liverpool.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2017, with the headline 'Italy in play-offs after Bosnia lose'. Print Edition | Subscribe