MADRID (REUTERS) - Spain sealed their place in the 2018 World Cup as Group G winners after storming to a 3-0 win over Albania on Friday (Oct 6) with a ruthless first half display, while nearest challengers Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Macedonia.
Valencia forward Rodrigo Moreno marked his first international start by opening the scoring in the 16th minute, chesting down an outrageously stylish pass from Isco to swivel and fire into the top corner.
Real Madrid midfielder Isco then shot high into the net in the 23rd to complete an equally impressive move of short floor passes between David Silva and Koke, while Thiago Alcantara scored the third three minutes later with a thumping header from a pinpoint cross from debutant Alvaro Odriozola.
The only downside for Spain was a shaky performance from Gerard Pique, who was booed by large sections of the Alicante crowd every time he touched the ball following his support for last Sunday’s referendum on Catalan independence and was substituted by Lopetegui after an hour was up.
Despite missing influential players such as Alvaro Morata, Andres Iniesta and Dani Carvajal through injury, the 2010 world champions looked as irresistible as in their 3-0 win over Italy last month, scoring three times in the space of 11 minutes.
They set the tone with a sweeping team move early on which saw Rodrigo miss the target from a Jordi Alba cross, and the Valencia forward wasted another chance for an early goal when he headed a perfectly weighted cross from Isco wide.
Rodrigo, who was recalled to the Spain squad for the first time in three years after spearheading Valencia’s impressive start to the Liga campaign, put those misses behind him with a clinical finish after being played in by Isco.
It was the start of a rampant spell from Spain which effectively put the game to bed and killed off Albania’s faint hopes of a playoff place as they fell five points behind Italy, who are second in the group.
Lopetegui’s side lowered their intensity after the break but still could have stretched their lead as Isco saw a free kick tipped over the crossbar and substitutes Marco Asensio and Saul Niguez each came close to getting on the scoresheet.
Spain have taken 25 points and scored a remarkable 35 goals from their nine Group G games and travel to Israel for their final qualifier on Monday with their place in Russia assured and if they can sustain this terrifying form will be one of the favourites to win the tournament.