Monday 09 October 2017, 22:53

Serbians relieved, Icelanders in raptures

  • Serbia and Iceland qualify for Russia 2018

  • Gylfi Sigurdsson scores fourth goal of campaign for Iceland

  • Republic of Ireland and Croatia land play-off slots

THE DAY REPLAYED – Two more European teams clinched their spots at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ on Monday, and although Serbia and Iceland were expected to secure first place in Group D and Group I respectively at the start of the evening, that is unlikely to dampen their expectant fans’ delight.

In the battle for second position, Republic of Ireland got the better of Wales, while Croatia pipped Ukraine to the post. reviews some nail-biting qualifiers in the European Zone.

Match of the day *Ukraine 0-2 Croatia* While Iceland were taking care of business at the top of Group I, Ukraine and Croatia, both vying for a place in the play-offs, laid on an intense and surprisingly entertaining clash in Kiev. Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric proved to be the difference between the two sides, his second-half brace – a powerful header and a back-post tap-in – propelling his team to an impressive and hard-fought victory.

*Elsewhere Group D Wales 1-0 Republic of Ireland, Serbia 1-0 Georgia, Moldova 0-1 Austria *Three days after missing the chance to wrap up automatic qualification against Austria, Serbia kept their fans on the edge of their seats until the 75th minute of their duel with Georgia in Belgrade, when Aleksandar Prijovic ended their agony by notching the winner – his first-ever international goal. At the same time, Ireland were digging deep for a memorable win in Wales, where James McClean’s brilliantly worked goal helped his side to pocket three points and knock out the despondent home team. Austria, already eliminated, picked up a morale-boosting victory in Moldova.

Group G *Albania 0-1 Italy, FYR Macedonia 4-0 Liechtenstein, Israel 0-1 Spain Italy, who were already assured of finishing second in the section, endured a more difficult evening than their fans had likely expected in Shkoder, where Albania forced Gianluigi Buffon into several excellent saves. As the final quarter of an hour approached, Antonio Candreva saved La Nazionale’s blushes with a smart finish. Spain, who had already booked their ticket to Russia, were also involved in a closely contested clash in Israel, Asier Illarramendi providing the winning goal for La Roja. Macedonia capped off their campaign with a resounding defeat of Liechtenstein.*

Group I *Iceland 2-0 Kosovo, Finland 2-2 Turkey, Ukraine 0-2 Croatia* With Iceland flying high at the summit of Group I and welcoming bottom side Kosovo – who had picked up just one point in nine matches – to Reykjavik, it appeared that qualification for Russia 2018 was a foregone conclusion. However, a well-organised Kosovan team combined with an element of stage fright led to a nervy first half for the Icelanders, who finally released the tension five minutes before the break through Gylfi Sigurdsson, who showed fine skill on the edge of the box before slotting the ball into the net. Johann Gudmundsson later sealed the historic victory 22 minutes from time.

Player of the day Gylfi Sigurdsson lived up to his status of leader and national hero on Monday, unlocking the stubborn Kosovan defence with a solo effort prior to setting up Johann Gudmundsson for Iceland’s second. In doing so, the Everton star and six-time Icelandic Footballer of the Year recorded his fourth goal and fourth assist of the qualifying campaign.