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Italy head for playoffs after win over Albania

SHKODER (Albania)

Italy battled to a 1-0 win over Albania on Monday with a late Antonio Candreva goal as the struggling Group G runners-up head for the playoffs in a bid to reach next year’s World Cup.

The four-times world champions had already clinched a playoff spot by finishing second behind group winners Spain, but, after a humiliating 1-1 draw at home to Macedonia on Friday, they were under pressure to perform in Albania.

Italy squandered several good chances until Candreva, unmarked to the left side of goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, was found with a ball across the area from Leonardo Spinazzola and fired home a powerful shot to give Italy the victory.

“We played a great game, were united in our play and we brought the victory home,” said midfielder Lorenzo Insigne. “Today we sought the victory at all costs and we managed to win. We gave everything and showed that Italy never gives up”.

Struggling Italy face a two-legged playoff against one of the other eight best runners-up from the European qualifying campaign to secure a place at next year’s finals in Russia.

Under-fire Italy coach Gian Piero Ventura told reporters: “In the November playoffs, I hope they (the team) are in better health, I hope we can get back some of the (injured)players.”

Third-placed Albania were eager to show they had improved over the last few years thanks to coaching from Italians.