Spain beats Italy 3-0 to close in on World Cup spot

Italy's Andrea Belotti fights for the ball against Spain's Dani Carvajal during the World Cup Group G qualifying soccer match between Spain and Italy at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Two first-half strikes by Francisco "Isco" Alarcon helped Spain beat Italy 3-0 and move closer to securing a World Cup spot

MADRID — Two first-half strikes by Francisco "Isco" Alarcon helped Spain beat Italy 3-0 Saturday and move closer to securing a World Cup spot.

Isco got the better of Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon from a free kick early in the game, then outsmarted the Italian defense with a low shot just before halftime at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Substitute Alvaro Morata scored Spain's third goal in the second half.

The result left Spain in control of Group G with 19 points, three more than Italy, with three games left in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Albania is third with 12 points.

Only the group winner automatically qualifies.

Both Italy and Spain had won all their group matches apart from a 1-1 draw against each other in Turin.

Spain's final qualifiers are at last-placed Liechtenstein on Tuesday, against third-placed Albania on Oct. 6 and at Israel on Oct. 9.

Italy's remaining games are at Israel on Tuesday, against Macedonia on Oct. 6 and at Albania on Oct. 9.

Also Saturday, Albania needed two second-half goals to beat last-placed Liechtenstein 2-0 to stay within reach of the group leaders.

Macedonia beat Israel 1-0 in Haifa to damage the hosts' chances of a playoff spot.

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ISCO MAGIC

Spain was in control during most of its 3-0 win in front of more than 73,000 fans at Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium.

After Marco Asensio was fouled outside the area in the 13th minute, Isco fired a well-placed shot over the Italian wall and past the outstretched arms of Buffon.

The Real Madrid forward, who played as a false striker in the Spanish attack, struck again in the 40th after clearing a defender with a neat cut back outside the area before sending a low shot into the corner.

The half ended with the Spanish fans chanting "Ole, ole" as their team overwhelmed Italy.

Isco continued to delight the crowd in the second half. In one nifty move, he rolled the ball between the legs of an opponent. A few minutes later, he flicked the ball over another Italian player before putting Morata in a goal-scoring position.

Isco got a standing ovation from the crowd when he was substituted in the final minutes.

Morata closed the scoring from close range after a low cross by defender Sergio Ramos in a breakaway near the end of the match.

Italy had a goal disallowed because of offside in the 75th. Morata also was caught offside when he scored what would have been his second goal in the final minutes.

Veteran striker David Villa came off the bench to replace Isco, making his return to the Spanish national team three years after his last match at the 2014 World Cup.

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STAYING ALIVE

Midfielder Odise Roshi and defender Ansi Agolli scored as Albania defeated Liechtenstein 2-0 to move closer to second-placed Italy.

The home victory gave Albania 12 points, four behind the Italians. Albania trails Spain by seven points.

Last-placed Liechtenstein has lost all of its seven matches, being outscored 26-1.

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FAR BEHIND

Israel missed a chance to move within four points of Italy after a 1-0 home loss to Macedonia.

Macedonia, second-to-last in the group, got the winner with a goal by Goran Pandev midway through the second half. The veteran striker took his national record tally of international goals to 30.

Macedonia moved to six points, three fewer than Israel.

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More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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