• Turkey back in contention following 1-0 win over Croatia
  • Serbia now with one foot in Russia
  • Spain and Italy win again

THE DAY REPLAYED – Turkey and Serbia both enjoyed vital victories to round off the September fixtures in European qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™.  While Turkey have renewed hope following a win over Croatia, Serbia cemented their place as group leaders after beating Republic of Ireland.

The fact that both fixtures ended in narrow 1-0 wins highlights just how tight European qualifying is. Indeed, no more than two goals separated the teams in eight of the continent’s nine matches, while Spain’s comfortable 8-0 thrashing of Liechtenstein came as no surprise.

Consequently, apart from Belgium and tournament hosts Russia, no other European sides have booked their place at the global showpiece, meaning there will be plenty riding on the final two rounds of matches in October.

Results
5 September
Group D: Republic of Ireland 0-1 Serbia, Austria 1-1 Georgia, Moldova 0-2 Wales
Group G: Italy 1-0 Israel, Liechtenstein 0-8 Spain, FYR Macedonia 1-1 Albania
Group I: Kosovo 0-1 Finland, Iceland 2-0 Ukraine, Turkey 1-0 Croatia

Match of the day
Turkey 1-0 Croatia
Turkey’s chances of reaching Russia 2018 plummeted in the wake of their 2-0 loss away to Ukraine on Saturday, meaning only a win at home to Croatia would keep them in the hunt. Their fans in Eskisehir were well aware of that and spurred their team on with incredible support. Turkey coach Mircea Lucescu made a number of changes to his line-up from the Ukraine game, with Arda Turan in particular making a good impression.

The hosts dominated a goalless first half, even if Croatia also carved out a few chances of their own. The deadlock was finally broken in the 75th mnute when Cenk Tosun scored the winner, tucking in the rebound after Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was unable to hold onto Oguzhan Ozyakup’s shot.

Elsewhere
Group D

Serbia have one foot in Russia thanks to their 1-0 win in Ireland. Aleksandar Kolarov’s fierce strike in the 55th minute secured all three points, even if they suffered a nervy finale, especially after Nikola Maksimovic was sent off on 68 minutes. Ireland now face an uphill task to make up the five-point deficit on the leaders with just two matches left to play. Wales are Serbia’s closest pursuers, sitting four points off top spot following a 2-0 win in Moldova that came via late goals from Hal Robson-Kanu (80′) and Aaron Ramsey (90+3′). Austria were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw with Georgia, leaving them five points behind Wales and with scant hope of reaching the play-offs.

Group G
Group G continues to be a two-horse race between leaders Spain (22 points) and Italy (19), following on from the Iberians’ 3-0 triumph in the teams’ head-to-head meeting on Saturday. As was expected, the 2010 World Cup winners had little trouble overcoming Liechtenstein, with efforts from Alvaro Morata (two), Iago Aspas (two), Sergio Ramos, Isco, David Silva and an own goal contributing to an 8-0 win. Italy had a harder time at home to Israel but Ciro Immobile’s 53rd-minute header ultimately gave Gian Piero Ventura’s side the victory. Macedonia (seven points) drew 1-1 with Albania (13), who now surely only have a mathematical chance of qualifying.

Group I
Croatia remain top of the pile despite their 1-0 defeat to Turkey, but Group I is wide open once again, with four teams jostling for the top two places. Gylfi Sigurdsson struck twice (47′, 66′) in Iceland’s 2-0 win over Ukraine in Reykjavik, putting them level on 16 points with Croatia. Turkey are in third on 14 points, tied with Ukraine. In a clash between the section’s bottom two sides, Finland (seven points) got the better of Kosovo thanks to Teemu Pukki’s 83rd-minute goal.


Player of the day
Aleksandar Kolarov (SER)

Before the action got underway in Group D, there were four teams with realistic hopes of booking their tickets to the World Cup. Republic of Ireland, in particular, were eyeing their home match against Serbia as a chance to take top spot. Now, however, the Serbs can begin their hunt for a headquarters in Russia after Kolarov, who was excellent all game, scored the winner in the second half with a powerful strike.

The words
“We’re all disappointed. We’re conceding goals too easily at the back and up front we’re lacking the necessary incisiveness. Our World Cup dream is over. I don’t think that’s down to the coach; it’s down to us players. We have to change something.” Austria striker Marko Arnautovic


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