2018 World Cup Qualifying - UEFA, Group Stage
  • Ciro Immobile (53')

Italy edges Israel to keep pressure on Spain

Italy kept the pressure on Spain in the race for automatic World Cup qualification as Ciro Immobile scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Israel.

Immobile's second-half header means Gian Piero Ventura's side stay three points behind Spain, who sit top of Group G after hammering Liechtenstein 8-0.

Italy's final two games are at home to Macedonia and away to Albania while Spain face Albania at home before ending with a trip to Israel.

Barring an unexpected slip from Spain, the Azzurri appear likely to finish second in the table, which should be enough for a spot in the play-offs.

They are now six points clear of third-placed Albania, who were held to a 1-1 draw in Macedonia.

This latest performance, however, did little to suggest the Italians should be considered among the favourites at next year's tournament in Russia.

They dominated possession in Reggio Emilia but struggled to break down Israel, who sit fourth having failed to win a qualifier since beating Liechtenstein last October.

The hosts were without their two first-choice centre-backs in Giorgio Chiellini, after he was ruled out with an ankle problem, and Leonardo Bonucci, who was suspended.

They could have lost their goalkeeper too early on when Gianluigi Buffon collided with team-mate Davide Astori but despite taking a knock to the head, the veteran was able to continue.

Israel could have taken the lead when Marwan Kabha looked set to finish from close range but Andrea Conti's challenge stopped the shot, while Almog Cohen had the ball in the net before half-time but his strike was chalked off for offside.

Italy regained control after the break, however, and within eight minutes of the restart broke the deadlock, Antonio Candreva's looping cross to the back post finding Immobile, who powered home with his head.

The goal seemed to knock the confidence out of Israel, who failed to mount any sustained pressure in the latter stages as Italy held on for an important, albeit unspectacular, victory.