Spain punches World Cup ticket, Serbia made to wait

Spain players celebrate at the end of the World Cup Group G qualifying soccer match between Spain and Albania at the Rico Perez stadium in Alicante, Spain, Friday. Spain won 3-0 and qualified for the 2018 tournament finals. (AP)
Updated 07 October 2017
0

Spain punches World Cup ticket, Serbia made to wait

PARIS: Heavyweights Spain qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a routine 3-0 home win over Albania, but Serbia must wait to seal to their place following a 3-2 loss in Austria.
Rodrigo, Isco and Thiago Alcantara all scored inside the first 30 minutes in Alicante as the 2010 world champions locked up top spot in Group G as Italy were surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by Macedonia in Turin.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was greeted with a mixture of jeers and applause on his 92nd international appearance just days after voting in a referendum on Catalan independence deemed illegal by the Spanish government and blighted by police violence.
“We had to concentrate solely on football,” coach Julen Lopetegui told Spanish TV station Teledeporte.
“It has been a difficult, complicated week and fortunately we managed to do that in a very, very good first 30 minutes.”
Four-time World Cup winners Italy are destined for the November play-offs after Macedonian substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski’s 77th-minute equalizer canceled out a first-half goal by veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini.
“There’s still one match left and then we’ll think about the play-offs. We hope to get some players back,” said Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura, whose squad has been depleted by a raft of injuries.
Serbia missed out on a chance to wrap up qualification from Group D with a match to spare as Louis Schaub struck a minute from time to give Austria victory in Vienna.
Serbia, who could have sealed a spot in Russia with victory, led through an early Luka Milivojevic goal but fell behind as Austria replied through efforts from Guido Burgstaller and Marko Arnautovic.
Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic had levelled on 83 minutes before Schaub’s winner, but Serbia can still advance by defeating Georgia in their final qualifier in Belgrade on Monday.
Tom Lawrence scored his first international goal to earn Wales a vital 1-0 victory in Georgia and keep them firmly in the hunt for a finals berth.
The Derby County forward rifled in the winner four minutes after halftime in Tbilisi as Chris Coleman’s team stayed a point clear of third-placed Republic of Ireland.
The Irish brushed Moldova aside 2-0 in Dublin through a first half brace from Daryl Murphy and now face Wales at home in a final-round showdown with first place in the group still in play.
“All we can do is work hard and take care of our business. We have a huge test on Monday night against the Republic of Ireland. We have a game plan and we will see where it takes us,” Coleman told Sky Sports.
Serbia head the section on 18 points with Wales, aiming to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1958, second on 17 and Ireland another point further back.
Iceland took a huge step toward a maiden World Cup appearance with an impressive 3-0 win over Turkey in Eskisehir that leaves the hosts all but out of the running.
Johann Gudmundsson, Birkir Bjarnason and Kari Arnason scored as Iceland pulled two points clear of Croatia at the top of Group I after the latter were held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to eliminated Finland.
Ukraine are level on 17 points with Croatia following a 2-0 win away to Kosovo and host the Croats in Kiev on Monday.


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 22 June 2018
0

Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.