Reggio Emilia (Italy): Ciro Immobile’s second half header got Italy back to winning ways in a 1-0 victory over Israel in Reggio Emilia to move closer to the World Cup playoffs.
Just three days after falling 3-0 to Spain in Madrid the four-time world champions kept their bid for a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia alive.
The three points in the Mapei Stadium helped Italy consolidate second place in Group G, six points clear of third-placed Albania, who were held 1-1 by Macedonia.
Spain top the table three points clear of the italiasn after routing Liechtenstein 8-0.
Italy, without injured Giorgio Chiellini and suspended Leonardo Bonucci, were far from convincing after their demolition by Spain.
Coach Giampiero Ventura made two changes in defence from the side that were outclassed at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium bringing in AC Milan’s Andrea Conti and Fiorentina’s Davide Astori.
But it was an inconsistent display for the hosts who could have pulled ahead from the first minute with Torino forward Andrea Belotti sending right of Ariel Harush in the Israel goal.
Israel were playing without captain Eran Zahavi who quit international football in disgust after his side were jeered by home fans in Haifa on Saturday in a shock loss to Macedonia.
Little space created problems early for the Azzurri with Harush saving a point blank shot from Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne just before the break.
But Immobile found the way through after 53 minutes following an Antonio Candreva cross from the right which found the head of the Lazio forward and past Harush.
The Israeli keeper did well to keep out a Belotti header after 68 minutes but the Italians still looked less than assured.
After losing to Spain a two-legged play-off is now looking increasingly likely for Italy if they are to reach the World Cup.
Israel suffered their fifth defeat of the campaign.
Italy next have games against Macedonia in Turin and Albania away in October.
With a six-point lead on Albania, Italy need just a point in October to secure second place in Group G.
The last time Italy had to go through play-offs was in 1997 on the road to the 1998 World Cup in France. (PTI)