Silva, Costa keep Spain in front of Italy

Spain kept its nose in front of Italy in the fight for automatic qualification for next year's World Cup as David Silva and Diego Costa were on target in a 2-1 win in Macedonia on Sunday.

Spain’s Diego Costa (right) celebrates with team-mate Sergio Ramos after scoring a goal against Macedonia in Skopje on Sunday.   -  AFP

Spain kept its nose in front of Italy in the fight for automatic qualification for next year's World Cup as David Silva and Diego Costa were on target in a 2-1 win in Macedonia on Sunday.

The two European giants remain locked on 16 points at the top of Group G of UEFA qualifying after Italy saw off Liechtenstein 5-0 in Udine.

And Spain hosts the Azzurri in its next qualifier at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu on September 2.

Victory extends Julen Lopetegui's unbeaten record as Spain boss since replacing Vicente del Bosque just under a year ago, and the visitors looked to be set for an easy night in Skopje after a dominant first 45 minutes. Silva has been the talisman of Lopetegui's reign and took his tally to eight goals in his last 10 international caps by finishing off a fine move involving Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba for the opener on 15 minutes.

Isco was rewarded for his brilliant form towards the end of Real's La Liga and Champions League double-winning campaign with a rare start for his country and looked keen to make an impact.

He stung the palms of Stole Dimitrievski before driving another effort just over the bar.

There was no stopping Isco midway through the half, though, as some sublime skill took him past Kire Ristevski before his low cross was turned home by Costa at the back post.

Isco should have added a third before half-time when he dallied before firing too close to Dimitrievski at his near post. However, Spain looked like a side in need of a rest after a long season as they took their foot well off the gas after the break to allow Macedonia back into the game.

It took an individual moment of brilliance from Stefan Ristovski to give the hosts hope, though, as the right-back charged forward below blasting high into David de Gea's top left-hand corner.

Dimitrievski was forced into one final fine save four minutes from time to prevent Costa adding a gloss to the scoreline, but Lopetegui's men comfortably saw out the final stages for a hard-earned three points.

Walters snatches point for Irish against Austria

Jon Walters smashed in a late equaliser as the Republic of Ireland fought back to draw 1-1 with Austria in its World Cup qualifier in Dublin on Sunday.

Stoke City forward Walters chased a long ball downfield by Robbie Brady and held off Aleksandar Dragovic before volleying into the far corner with five minutes remaining at the Aviva Stadium.

That cancelled out Austria's opening goal, which arrived just after the half-hour mark and was the result of a well-worked corner routine. David Alaba's delivery from the left was nutmegged by Sebastian Proedl and Martin Hinteregger, the defender from German side Augsburg, swept a low first-time finish into the net.

The result leaves Ireland still unbeaten after six matches in qualifying Group D and puts it provisionally on top of the section on 12 points, a point above Serbia.

Serbia is in action later at home to Wales, who are fourth with seven points, a point behind Austria in third. Only the group winners qualify automatically for next year's finals in Russia, with the eight best runners-up in the nine groups going into play-offs for the last four spots.

Wales earns a draw

Aaron Ramsey's penalty helped Wales to a precious 1-1 draw in Serbia as it kept hopes of a place at the finals in Russia alive. Chris Coleman's side were missing star man Gareth Bale due to suspension in Belgrade but Arsenal midfielder Ramsey inspired the visitors into a half-time lead when he floated in a 35th-minute penalty, sending goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way.

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