PALERMO: Gianluigi Buffon kept a clean sheet on his 1,000th professional appearance as Italy kept pace with Spain at the top of Group G in World Cup qualifying.
The evergreen 39-year-old goalkeeper cheekily suggested in the build-up he might “do a Zidane and head(butt) someone on the pitch” in homage to the former France midfielder who did exactly that in the 2006 World Cup final.
But there were no such theatrics from the Juventus captain, who had a quiet night’s work – making just one save in his 168th match for the national side – as the Azzurri defeated Albania 2-0 in Palermo.
Daniele De Rossi opened the scoring in the 12th minute after Andrea Belotti had been fouled in the area by Migjen Basha, while Ciro Immobile’s header an hour later gave the hosts victory.
That ensured Italy remain level on 13 points with Spain, who stay top of the standings on goal difference alone after running out 4-1 winners over Israel in Gijon.
David Silva struck in the 13th minute before Machin Vitolo doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time, while Diego Costa’s header shortly after the interval all but ended the game as a contest.
Lior Rafaelov pulled one back in the 77th minute but substitute Isco restored Spain’s three-goal cushion in the closing stages.
The group’s two previously pointless sides also clashed, with FYR Macedonia getting off the mark with a 3-0 win in Liechtenstein.
Ilija Nestoroski bagged a brace and missed a penalty after Boban Nikolov had given the visitors the lead.
Serbia moved to the top of Group D after coming from behind to see off Georgia 3-1 in Tbilisi.
Nika Kacharava had given lowly Georgia an early advantage but Dusan Tadic’s penalty just before the break and second-half goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Mijat Gacinovic steered Slavoljub Muslin’s men to an away triumph.
They moved to the top of the standings after the Republic of Ireland were held to a goalless draw against Wales, who finished with 10 men in Dublin after Neil Taylor was dismissed for a rash challenge which saw Republic captain Seamus Coleman stretchered off.
Austria went level on points with third-placed Wales after late goals from Marcel Sabitzer and Martin Harnik earned them a 2-0 triumph over Moldova in Vienna.
Croatia maintained their three-point lead atop Group I thanks to Nikola Kalinic’s 38th-minute strike, which gave them a 1-0 victory over Ukraine in Zagreb.
Iceland remain second after a 2-1 win in Kosovo. Bjorn Sigurdarson’s strike and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty put Iceland in control and although Atdhe Nuhiu halved the deficit to set up a nervy finale, the visitors held on.
Cenk Tosun’s two goals inside the first quarter of an hour guided Turkey to a 2-0 success over Finland.