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Immobile lifts Italy closer to World Cup

REGGIO EMILIA, Italy: Ciro Immobile’s second half header got Italy back to winning ways in a 1-0 victory over Israel in Reggio Emilia on Tuesday to move them closer to the 2018 World Cup.

After losing 3-0 to Spain at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, Italy needed a win to continue to aspire to first place in Group G, leading to automatic qualification.

Italy still have a remote chance of finishing first as they sit three points behind Spain with two games left, but the play-offs look increasingly likely. Spain top the table after routing Liechtenstein 8-0.

The three points in the Mapei Stadium helped Italy consolidate second place in Group G, six points clear of third-placed Albania, who were held 1-1 by Macedonia.

“It is clear that the result was the priority, but I am happy,” said coach Giampiero Ventura. “We spent 80 minutes in the opposition half, although we did not do well in the first half. It is a small step that should convince us to do better.”

After the break Italy improved, with a clear first chance for Immobile (48). Five minutes later the Lazio striker opened the scoring with a header from an excellent centre by Antonio Candreva.

Elsewhere, Serbia and Iceland claimed vital victories in other groups.

The 2010 champions Spain had little trouble in dispatching minnows Liechtenstein on a flurry of goals from Sergio Ramos, Isco, David Silva, doubles from Iago Aspas and Alvaro Morata, and an own goal.

In Group D, a second half rocket from Aleksandar Kolarov earned 10-man Serbia a 1-0 win away to Ireland to close in on qualification. Wales went second with a 2-0 win in Moldova but Austria were held 1-1 by Georgia and are on the brink.

And in the tight Group I, Iceland defeated Ukraine 2-0 to move level with leaders Croatia, who were beaten 1-0 in Turkey. — Agencies

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