Italy secure top seeding with win

SHKODER (Albania) • Antonio Candreva lifted Italy to a 1-0 win over Albania in their final World Cup qualifying game on Monday that ensured the Azzurri are top seeds for next month's European play-offs.

Gian Piero Ventura's side were already through, but desperately needed a win in Shkoder to be guaranteed the status of top seeds in the draw next Tuesday.

"This was the objective we had set. I think we took another small step forward, but we continue to control the game badly and give the ball away too often," he said.

"But I had faith when people said the situation was dramatic and I (still) have faith now."

After a tight first half, Inter Milan winger Candreva found the way through after 73 minutes at the Loro Borici Stadium.

"We wanted to prove ourselves after the Macedonia game (which ended 1-1)," he said. "Victories can't be taken for granted. We talked and realised that we had to get back together and be solid going into the play-offs.

"We need the spirit of sacrifice, humility and that Italian character that represents us."

The four-time world champions finished second in Group G five points behind Spain, who booked their ticket to Russia as group winners on 28 points, with Italy through to the play-offs on Nov 9 and Nov 14 as one of the eight best second-placed teams.

The Spaniards also won 1-0 in their final qualifier, after Real Sociedad midfielder Asier Illarramendi scored a first international goal away to Israel.

The victory also rounded off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a ninth win in 10 games.

Israel had long been out of contention for a play-off place, finishing fourth on 12 points, one behind Albania in third.

"We knew this was a difficult game for different reasons but we wanted to win and take another step towards recovering our winning mentality which could help us go on and win the World Cup," Spain goalkeeper Pepe Reina told reporters.

"Italy were the team to beat but every side posed their own difficulties and we've been very consistent, confident in ourselves and we've played in the style we wanted to wherever we've been."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Italy secure top seeding with win'. Print Edition | Subscribe