Iceland makes history, WCQ heartbreak for Wales

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Needing victory to guarantee top spot in European qualifying Group I, goals from Everton star Gylfi Sigurdsson and Johann Gudmundsson ensured Iceland would be on the plane to Russia 2018.

It was only two years ago that Iceland qualified for a major finals for the first time, taking advantage of a tournament expanded to 24 teams but nonetheless knocking out the Netherlands in qualifying.

From there the team from the tiny island of just 330,000 people stunned Europe by not only negotiating their group but also upsetting England in the last 16, before going out to hosts France in the quarter-finals.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson (L) celebrates scoring. / AFP PHOTO / Haraldur Gudjonsson

Johann Berg Gudmundsson (L) celebrates scoring. / AFP PHOTO / Haraldur GudjonssonSource:AFP

Now, the World Cup in Russia will also be graced by the popular northern Europeans and their colourful fans who started a clapping trend at the Euros that is sure to make its mark next year.

The fireworks blazed into the sky at the Laugardalsvollur stadium after the team coached by Heimir Hallgrimsson completed their expected victory over the European minnows Kosovo, ranked 184 by FIFA.

The result left Iceland ahead of Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey after yet another impressive qualifying campaign.

Iceland's fans celebrate. / AFP PHOTO / Haraldur Gudjonsson

Iceland’s fans celebrate. / AFP PHOTO / Haraldur GudjonssonSource:AFP

SERBIA OFF TO THE WORLD CUP

ALEKSANDAR Prijovic scored after coming on as a second-half substitute to steer Serbia to a 1-0 win over Georgia and secure a place at next year’s World Cup finals.

Prijovic struck the winner on 74 minutes in Belgrade as Serbia finished top of European qualifying Group D, with the Republic of Ireland heading to the play-offs after a 1-0 victory over Wales in Cardiff.

Serbian players celebrate. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Serbian players celebrate. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)Source:AP

IRELAND THROUGH TO PLAY-OFFS, BREAK WELSH HEARTS

REPUBLIC of Ireland claimed a World Cup play-off spot at Wales’ expense after James McClean’s crisp second-half strike earned his side a 1-0 victory in Cardiff on Monday.

The West Bromwich Albion winger’s goal moved Ireland above Wales into second place in Group D below Serbia, meaning Martin O’Neill’s men will be one of the eight teams in the European play-off draw on October 17.

While Ireland remain on course for a first World Cup finals appearance since 2002, surprise Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales saw their dream of a first appearance at the tournament since 1958 turn to dust.

Bereft of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, and robbed of Joe Allen by a suspected concussion in the first half, Wales fell to their first defeat in the group and their first loss in a competitive home game in over four years.

The tense game at Cardiff City Stadium stands to be Chris Coleman’s last as Wales manager in a competitive fixture, the architect of last year’s Euro heroics having pledged to stand down after the current World Cup cycle.

David Meyler (C) vies with Wales' Aaron Ramsey (L) and Joe Allen. / AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICK

David Meyler (C) vies with Wales’ Aaron Ramsey (L) and Joe Allen. / AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICKSource:AFP

Brought into the Wales team in place of Sam Vokes, Hal Robson-Kanu went close early on with a header from a Joe Ledley corner, before Aaron Ramsey saw a crisp drive tipped over by Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Wales dominated possession in the first half, creating concern among the green hordes inside the stadium and obliging Ireland to feed off scraps in the final third.

A chance fell to Jeff Hendrick when Cyrus Christie’s long throw-in was not cleared, but the Burnley man miscued, and Shane Duffy drilled a low shot across the face of the Welsh goal.

Allen and Ramsey were setting the tempo for Wales with their neat footwork and incisive passing, only for the Stoke City midfielder to be forced off in the 37th minute after being caught in a sandwich between McClean and David Meyler.

Jonny Williams came on and the loss of one of Wales’ key orchestrators enabled Ireland to gain a foothold for the first time.

Wales started the second half brightly and it took a brilliant acrobatic save from Randolph to prevent Robson-Kanu putting them in front with a header from Jonny Williams’s right-wing cross.

But in the 57th minute Ireland struck, Hendrick charging down Ashley Williams’s clearance and crossing from the right, Harry Arter dummying and McClean slamming a right-foot shot past a motionless Wayne Hennessey.

James McClean celebrates. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

James McClean celebrates. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images

It was the first time Wales had fallen behind in the qualifying campaign. Coleman sent on 17-year-old Liverpool forward Ben Woodburn and Vokes, but Ireland survived heavy late pressure to extend their unbeaten record against their Celtic cousins to eight games and stay in the hunt for Russia.

McLean keeps Ireland alive0:52

Football: Wales’ Ashley WIlliams received a poor ball from the goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and lost it under pressure to Ireland’s Jeff Hendrick – who then set up a goal for teammate James McClean.

  • October 10th 2017
  • 2 hours ago
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ITALY LOCKS DOWN TOP PLAY-OFF SEED

ANTONIO Candreva lifted Italy to a 1-0 win over Albania in their final World Cup qualifying game on Monday that assures the Azzurri are top seeds for November’s play-offs.

Gian Piero Ventura’s side were already through to next month’s play-offs, but desperately needed a win in Shkoder to be guaranteed the status of top seeds in the draw on October 17.

“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,” said Ventura.

“I had faith when people said the situation was dramatic and I have faith now.”

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

Atalanta midfielder Leonardo Spinazzola packed a neat cross from the left for the 30-year-old who rifled into the top of the net from close range to mark his 50th selection for the Azzurri.

“We wanted to prove ourselves after the Macedonia game (1-1),” said Candreva. “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.”

Antonio Candreva celebrates after scoring. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

Antonio Candreva celebrates after scoring. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)Source:AP

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

Reeling from last month’s defeat in Madrid to Spain, Ventura had come under fire after Friday’s dire draw with Macedonia in Turin.

And his injury-depleted side were still without stalwarts Andrea Belotti, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Barzagli, Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Italy had a strong call for a penalty turned down in the first half with Ciro Immobile also going close to getting the opener on 21 minutes but Atalanta goalkeeper Etrit Berisha cleared.

Veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon saved early efforts from Napoli defender Elseid Hysaj and midfielder Eros Grezda.

Italy were denied a penalty appeal before the break when Eder’s cross for Immobile hit Empoli defender Frederic Veseli’s hand, but the referee waved play on, and again when Insigne was brought down on the edge of the area.

Cristian Panucci’s Albania lost their tempo midway through the second half allowing Italy space, with Candreva finding the way through.

Antonio Candreva (R) celebrates. / AFP PHOTO / Dimitar DILKOFF

Antonio Candreva (R) celebrates. / AFP PHOTO / Dimitar DILKOFFSource:AFP

Italy now have a month to regain confidence and some of their injured players, although top striker Belotti has already been ruled out of the play-offs.

“I hope to get some players back for the play-offs, as otherwise there might be a problem,” conceded Venturaea.

World Cup 2018 qualifying results in the European zone on Monday:

Group D

At Chisinau Moldova 0 Austria 1 (Schaub 69)

At Belgrade Serbia 1 (Prijovic 74) Georgia 0

At Cardiff Wales 0 Ireland 1 (McClean 57)

Group G

At Shkoder, Albania Albania 0 Italy 1 (Candreva 73)

At Jerusalem Israel 0 Spain 1 (Illarramendi 76)

At Strumica, Macedonia Macedonia 4 (Musliu 36, Trajkovski 38, Bardhi 67, Ademi 69) Liechtenstein 0

Group I

At Turku, Finland Finland 2 (Arajuuri 76, Pohjanpalo 88) Turkey 2 (Tosun 57, 83)

At Reykjavik Iceland 2 (Sigurdsson 40, Gudmundsson 68) Kosovo 0

At Kiev Ukraine 0 Croatia 2 (Kramaric 62, 70)

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