Wales took a huge step towards their dream of qualifying for the World Cup Finals, on a night when Ireland’s chances of making the tournament suffered a huge blow.
A win for Ireland over Serbia in Dublin would have put them top of the qualifying group with just two matches left to play, but Aleksandar Kolarov’s goal on 55 minutes ensured his side took a firm grip in pole position. Despite being reduced to ten-men for more than 20 minutes when Nikola Maksimovic was sent off, the visitors held on to earn three points.
This result allowed Wales to leapfrog Martin O’Neill’s side into second-place in the standings, after a 2-0 win in Moldova which was delivered courtesy of late goals from Hal Robson-Kanu and Aaron Ramsey. Chris Coleman’s team are four points behind Serbia and one ahead of Ireland, who they meet in Cardiff in their final match next month.
Austria’s chances of finishing second are all but over after they were held to a 1-1 draw against Georgia in Vienna, leaving them five points behind Wales in the standings.
Spain are firmly in the driving seat to qualify as group winners after an 8-0 rout in Lichtenstein, with Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata (two) and Manchester City’s David Silva amongst the goals. Sergio Ramos, Iago Aspas (two), and an own-goal complete the demolition to send them three points clear of Italy, who beat Israel 1-0 thanks to Ciro Immobile.
In the other match, which now appears to be little more than a dead-runner in terms of qualifying for the Finals in Russia, Albania were held to a 1-1 home draw against Macedonia.
Croatia missed the chance to grab a handle on top-spot in Group I when they lost 1-0 in Turkey, allowing Iceland – who won 2-0 against Ukraine thanks to a brace from Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson – to join them on 16 points. Turkey and Ukraine are firmly in the race on 14 points each, exactly twice the amount as Finland, who beat Kosovo 1-0, have.