Spain sealed their place in next year’s World Cup with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Albania while Iceland are on the verge of their first finals after recording a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Turkey in Istanbul.
First-half goals from Rodrigo, Isco and Thiago helped make it eight wins from nine matches in Group G for Julen Lopetegui’s unbeaten Spain side, in a match in which the La Roja centre-back Gerard Piqué was again the target of whistles and jeers.
The 2010 world champions are now guaranteed to finish in top spot as Italy – who started the day three points behind in second – could only draw at home to FYR Macedonia in what was the penultimate round of fixtures.
Pique’s night at Alicante’s Jose Rico Perez stadium did not run quite so serenely, however. The Barcelona defender has found himself headline news and in the firing line following last weekend’s controversial independence referendum in Catalonia.
Pique, a vocal supporter of Catalan independence, voted in the violence-hit election that been declared illegal by the Spanish government, then later offered to quit La Roja if his presence became a problem.
Pique has since found support from within the national team, but has also been the subject of boos from irate Spain fans throughout the week.
The 30-year-old was under fire again during Friday’s fixture with Albania, with a mixed reception when his name was read out ahead of kick-off followed by boos when he touched the ball – although there was applause for the centre-back as well.
In Group I Berg Gudmundsson and Birkir Bjarnason gave Iceland a two-goal cushion heading into half-time in Istanbul and things got even better for Heimir Hallgrimsson’s team four minutes into the second half when Kari Arnason extended the lead.
The defeat ended Turkey’s hopes of qualifying but Iceland moved two points clear at the top of the table heading into the final round of matches – when they face bottom-placed Kosovo – after Croatia could only draw at home to Finland.
A stoppage-time equaliser from Pyry Soiri left qualification out of the hands of Croatia, who led through Mario Mandzukic’s 57th-minute tap-in.
Croatia face a tough last game away to Ukraine, who can still qualify themselves after a Leart Paqarada own goal and a Andriy Yarmolenko effort saw them win 2-0 in Kosovo to join the Croats on 17 points.