Italy beats Israel to all but secure World Cup playoff place

REGGIO EMILIA, Italy — Italy all but secured a playoff place after labouring to a 1-0 victory over Israel in their World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

Ciro Immobile scored the only goal in the 53rd minute. It was an abject performance from Italy, which was jeered off the pitch at halftime.

Italy remained second, three points behind Group G leader Spain. It moved six points above third-place Albania, and just needs one point from its final two qualifying matches to secure second spot and a playoff place for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Israel now has no chance of qualifying.

Italy needed a victory after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Spain and it almost got off to a great start, but Andrea Belotti fired just wide in the opening minute.

That was to prove the Azzurri’s only clear chance of the half and the jeers began after about 15 minutes as Italy struggled to find a rhythm.

Israel almost took a shock lead in the 25th when Maruwan Kabha rushed through one-on-one with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and was only denied by a perfectly-timed sliding block from Italy debutant Andrea Conti.

Almog Cohen also went close for the visitors but Buffon managed to push his effort over the bar.

Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura was clearly as frustrated as the fans and could be seen banging his head on the roof covering the substitutes’ bench.

The home side improved in the second half and Daniele de Rossi and Immobile both had chances before the deadlock was broken eight minutes after the restart when Antonio Candreva floated in a pinpoint cross from the right flank for Immobile to head in at the far post.

It was Immobile’s sixth goal in eight qualifying matches for Italy.

Belotti almost doubled Italy’s lead but he was twice denied by good reaction saves from Israel goalkeeper Ariel Harush.