LNTUP

Gerard Pique received a mixed reception from fans as Spain sealed their place at the 2018 World Cup

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Spain secured their place in the 2018 World Cup after they eased to a 3-0 Group G win over Albania as Gerard Pique received a mixed reception.

Julen Lopetegui’s men approached Friday’s contest in Alicante knowing they would qualify for the finals in Russia by bettering Italy’s result against Macedonia.

But, given the disparity in quality between the two teams, Spain’s vastly superior goal difference and head-to-head advantage over Italy, the spotlight was always likely to be on Barcelona defender Pique.

Pique, who has been vocal in his support of a referendum on Catalonia’s attempts to secede from Spain, was whistled at an open training session on Monday.

And the centre-back received the same treatment from his first touch at Estadio Jose Rico Perez, but was later brought off predominantly to applause in the second half.

Rodrigo opened the scoring in the 16th minute with a fine close-range effort before Isco’s fourth goal in three Spain matches and Thiago Alcantara’s header made the game safe in the space of 10 minutes.

Italy’s 1-1 draw with Macedonia means Spain go into the final round of fixtures on Monday guaranteed a place in the tournament proper, holding a five-point lead at the top, while Albania’s slim hopes of earning a play-off spot are over.

Rodrigo spurned an early chance to put Spain ahead as he stabbed wide from Jordi Alba’s left-wing cross before Azdren Llullaku forced David De Gea into a routine save at the other end.

A glorious opportunity went begging with Rodrigo again at fault as he failed to convert Isco’s right-wing cross, heading wide from close range, but the Valencia forward soon atoned for his profligacy.
He controlled Isco’s clever pass with his head before smashing a superb stretching half-volley beyond Etrit Berisha to open the scoring.

Sergio Ramos then saw a header turned over before his Real Madrid team-mate Isco doubled the lead.

Koke played Isco in at the near post and he made no mistake in lashing into the top-left corner.

That seemingly put the game beyond doubt but Albania almost responded as Llullaku clattered a header against the crossbar.