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Clinical Spain secures Cup spot

Reuters

Spain’s Rodrigo scores his side’s first goal in World Cup qualifying action on Friday against Albania.

The Associated PressMADRID (AP) — Spain easily defeated Albania 3-0 to secure a World Cup berth as outspoken defender Gerard Pique received a mixed reaction from home fans every time he touched the ball on Friday.

Rodrigo, Isco, and Thiago Alcantara scored first-half goals to give Spain an insurmountable five-point lead over Italy with one round to go in Group G of European qualifying.

Italy’s chance of winning the group ended with a 1-1 draw against Macedonia in Turin, a result that secured second place for the Italians.

Israel won at Liechtenstein 1-0 in the other group match.

Spain will be making its 11th consecutive World Cup appearance.

“It was a complicated week but we were able to come out only focused on football,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said.

“We did our part and with the Italy result it ended up being enough.”

As expected, many of the nearly 30,000 fans in the crowd in the southeastern city of Alicante booed Pique almost every time he touched the ball. But many applauded the outspoken Barcelona defender, and he even got a standing ovation by some when he was substituted early in the second half.

He also applauded the fans as he left the field, and later part of the crowd chanted his name while he sat in the stands.

Pique has been criticized by Spanish fans for being openly critical of the Spanish government’s handling of the independence referendum organized by Catalonia on Sunday, when authorities and voters confronted each other in violent clashes.

Pique, who has long defended the Catalans, was harassed by fans at Spain’s training camp in Madrid on Monday, with many calling him to leave the national team.

He pledged his commitment to Spain’s squad a few days later, and said he hoped Alicante fans would not jeer him because of his stance on the Catalonia issue. He is often booed when Spain plays outside of Catalonia.

Pique will not play on Monday in Israel because of a yellow card suspension.Speech

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