Spain qualify for World Cup with comfortable Albania win
World Cup Qualification UEFA Group G, Estadio Jose Rico Perez - Rodrigo 16', Isco 23', Thiago 26')
Spain secured their place at next summer’s World Cup with a high-quality display against an Albania side who were undefeated in their previous three qualifiers.
In front of a 20,000-strong crowd at Alicante’s Estadio José Rico Pérez, the hosts took just fifteen minutes to open the scoring when Rodrigo converted a sublime Isco through-ball. The Valencia striker’s finish was excellent, even if he was wasteful on several other occasions.
Eight minutes later, Isco found the net himself with an emphatic finish that benefited from some excellent service from David Silva. Thiago headed home the third and final goal shortly before the half-hour mark, connecting with a looping Alvaro Odriozola cross.
Isco Alarcon of Spain runs past Ergys Kace (right) of Albania during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Spain and Albania at Estadio Jose Rico Perez on October 6, 2017 in Alicante, Spain.Getty Images
The star of the show, however, may have been debutant Alvaro Odriozola. The Real Sociedad full-back was involved in several key passages of play down the right flank, in addition to making important defensive contributions.
Although Albania threatened on a few occasions, they looked far weaker than the side that held Spain to a goalless first-half in the corresponding fixture last October.
Are Spain among the favourites to win the World Cup?
Based on their near-immaculate qualifying campaign, it seems that Julen Lopetegui has brought Spain back to their magnificent best. At times against Albania, they were devastating - on and off the ball. Do they have the mettle to challenge the likes of Germany and Brazil as genuine World Cup contenders next summer?
Rodrigo of Spain celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Spain and Albania at Estadio Jose Rico Perez on October 6, 2017 in Alicante, Spain.Getty Images
MAN OF THE MATCH
Alvaro Odriozola (Spain) On his national team debut, the Real Sociedad full-back truly excelled. Not only did the 21-year-old extinguish several key Albanian attacks, but he proved to be incredibly effective when Spain pushed forward. The young Basque certainly made his case for a seat on the plane to Russia.
15' - GOAL: Isco feeds a sublime ball to Rodrigo from the edge area, who chests it down and slots past Berisha. A marvellous goal.
23' - GOAL: Another great finish. Koke finds Isco in the box, who turns and shoots hard into the roof of the net from around 7 yards.
27' - GOAL: Thiago heads in an Odriozola high cross that spent a LONG time in the air. Statuesque defending from Albania.
59' - CHANCE: Ajeti narrowly heads wide from the corner!
70' - CHANCE: Sadiku heads the post with a header that came from a long-range pass. It's the second time they've hit the woodwork.
Spain’s five home 2018 World Cup Qualifiers have produced an aggregate score of 22-1.
Albania have lost all seven of their encounters with Spain, conceding 29 times in the process.
Spain have never lost a home World Cup qualifier.