World Cup Qualifiers: Immobile lifts Italy past Israel

Ciro Immobile’s second half header gave Italy a 1-0 victory.

Ciro Immobile celebrates after scoring Italy’s only goal.   -  AFP

Ciro Immobile’s second half header got Italy back to winning ways in a 1-0 victory over Israel in Reggio Emilia to move closer to the World Cup playoffs. Just three days after falling 3-0 to Spain in Madrid the four-time world champion kept its bid for a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia alive.

The three points in the Mapei Stadium helped Italy consolidate second place in Group G, six points clear of third-placed Albania, which was held 1-1 by Macedonia. Spain tops the table three points clear of the Italians after routing Liechtenstein 8-0.

Italy, without injured Giorgio Chiellini and suspended Leonardo Bonucci, was far from convincing after its demolition by Spain.

 

Coach Giampiero Ventura made two changes in defence from the side that was outclassed at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, bringing in AC Milan’s Andrea Conti and Fiorentina’s Davide Astori. But it was an inconsistent display for the host which could have pulled ahead from the first minute with Torino forward Andrea Belotti sending right of Ariel Harush in the Israel goal.

Israel was playing without captain Eran Zahavi who quit international football in disgust after his side was jeered by home fans in Haifa on Saturday in a shock loss to Macedonia. Little space created problems early for the Azzurri with Harush saving a point blank shot from Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne just before the break.

But Immobile found the way through after 53 minutes following an Antonio Candreva cross from the right which found the head of the Lazio forward and past Harush. The Israeli keeper did well to keep out a Belotti header after 68 minutes but the Italians still looked less than assured.

After losing to Spain, a two-legged playoff is now looking increasingly likely for Italy if it is to reach the World Cup.

Israel suffered its fifth defeat of the campaign.

Italy next has games against Macedonia in Turin and Albania away in October. With a six-point lead on Albania, Italy needs just a point in October to secure second place in Group G. The last time Italy had to go through playoffs was in 1997 on the road to the 1998 World Cup in France.

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