2018 World Cup Qualifying - UEFA, Group Stage
  • Rodrigo (16')
  • Isco (23')
  • Thiago Alcántara (26')

Spain book Russia spot with comfy defeat of Albania; Pique jeered

Spain sealed their place in next year's World Cup finals with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Albania in a match which saw La Roja centre-back Gerard Pique once again the target of whistles and jeers.

First-half goals from Rodrigo, Isco and Thiago helped make it eight wins from nine matches in Group G for Julen Lopetegui's unbeaten side.

The 2010 world champions are now guaranteed to finish in top spot as Italy - who started the day three points behind in second - could only draw at home to FYR Macedonia in what was the penultimate round of fixtures.

Pique's night at Alicante's Jose Rico Perez stadium did not run quite so serenely, however.

The Barcelona defender has found himself headline news and in the firing line following last weekend's controversial independence referendum in Catalonia.

Pique, a vocal supporter of Catalan independence, voted in the violence-hit election that been declared illegal by the Spanish government, and then later offered to quit La Roja if his presence became a problem.

Pique has since found support from within the national team, but has also been the subject of boos from irate Spain fans throughout the week.

The 30-year-old was under fire again during Friday's clash with Albania, with a mixed reception when his name was read out ahead of kick-off followed by boos when he touched the ball - although there was applause for the big centre-back as well.

Those early jeers soon turned to cheers for the rest of the Spain side, though, as they swatted aside Albania in devastating style in the first half.

The contest was as good as over inside half-an-hour as the hosts raced into a 3-0 lead, with Rodrigo opening the scoring in the 16th minute.

The Valencia forward controlled an Isco pass on his chest on the edge of the area before stretching to send a superb left-footed half-volley past visiting goalkeeper Etrit Berisha.

Isco then made it 2-0 in the 24th minute, firing a thunderous shot into the roof of the net after being picked out by Koke, before Thiago added a third four minutes later.

Debutant Alvaro Odriozola did well down the right before lofting over an inviting cross that Thiago raced on to before powering home an unstoppable header.

Spain continued to push for more goals and almost added a fourth in the 52nd minute when Rodrigo drew a good save from Berisha.

Soon after that Pique was replaced, having picked up a yellow card at the start of the second half which means he will be suspended for Monday's final match against Israel.

Pique left the pitch to another mixed reception - although the Barcelona man applauded the fans as he made his way off - and his departure ended up coinciding with Albania's best spell of the match.

They hit the post through Armando Sadiku's header before David De Gea was called upon to deny Liridon Latifi and Sadiku fired another effort over.

However, there were no other late scares for Spain as they secured a victory which - combined with Italy's slip-up - means La Roja will be heading to Russia.