As Spain net 8 and Italy 3, Kosovo get landmark debut goal
Spain put eight goals past Liechtenstein. Wales netted four against Moldova. Italy scored three in Israel.
But the most significant goal in Monday's nine World Cup qualifiers in Europe came from a Kosovo player only given permission to make his debut for football's newest country hours before taking to the field in Finland.
And it wasn't just a meaningless consolation goal from Valon Berisha. Far from it.
By converting the penalty, the former Norway midfielder ensured Kosovo's first competitive match since gaining FIFA membership in May ended in a 1-1 draw, securing a point in Group I at the start of an improbable journey to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
"It is a very good feeling," Berisha said. "I had dreamt about that. My uncle asked me, 'For God's sake, score the first goal for Kosovo.' And I did that."
Kickoff was less than five hours away when the sport's governing body finally allowed six players who had represented other countries to switch their allegiance to Kosovo now the former province of Serbia is recognized as a football nation.
The case of Berisha, who previously played for Norway, was the last to be resolved before the 9:45 p.m. (1845 GMT) kickoff. At exactly 11 p.m. — an hour into the game in Turku — Berisha netted Kosovo's equalizer from the penalty spot after being fouled by Thomas Lam.
The goal sparked celebrations among team officials who had endured a tense wait for FIFA's players' status committee to clear Berisha to pull on the Kosovo jersey.
"Our team showed they are an interesting one with a good future," coach Albert Bunjaki said.
"We should not forget this is a qualifier for the World Cup and that we should continue the rhythm of our play. We have very interesting players, with a prosperous future."
The Balkan nation is level with all the other teams in Group I as both Croatia-Turkey and Ukraine-Iceland also ended 1-1.
Former world champions Spain and Italy breezed through their opening qualifiers as they chase the only automatic qualification spot from the group.
It was an emphatic start as Spain coach for Julen Lopetegui, who replaced Vicente del Bosque after the team's European title defense ended in the round of 16 in France in June.
In an 8-0 trouncing of Liechtenstein, Diego Costa, David Silva and Alvaro Morata all contributed two goals, while Sergi Roberto and Victor "Vitolo" Machin also netted.
There was also good news for Spain from Italy's 3-1 win against Israel. Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini was sent off after receiving a second yellow so he will be suspended for the much-anticipated match against Spain on Oct. 6.
When the Italians were reduced to 10 men in the 55th minute they were already leading 2-1 thanks to Graziano Pelle's close-range strike and Antonio Candreva's penalty. Ciro Immobile eased Italy's anxieties in the 83rd minute by netting the visitors' third in Haifa.
One game in the group wasn't completed, with Albania-Macedonia abandoned because of heavy rain with the teams drawing 1-1. The remaining 15 minutes will be completed Tuesday, kicking off at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT).
Gareth Bale set Wales on the path to reaching its first World Cup since 1958 with a double strike and an assist in a 4-0 victory over Moldova.
The empathic display, albeit against a wretched Moldova side, was the first outing by the Welsh since they stunned the continent by reaching the European Championship semifinals in July.
Bale was the inspiration on the field in the Group D qualifier just as he was in France, taking his international tally to 24 goals — only four behind Wales' all-time record scorer Ian Rush.
Bale's first goal in Cardiff was one of the easiest he will ever be gifted, connecting with a sloppy back pass from Moldova defender Ion Jardan before lifting the ball over the goalkeeper.
Jardan also assisted Bale's second goal in stoppage time. The Real Madrid forward was pushed over by Jardan in the penalty area and he converted from the spot. In the first half, Bale provided the cross that was headed in by Sam Vokes for Wales' opener and he won the corner that Joe Allen scored from just before the break.
Martin Hinteregger and Marc Janko gave Austria a 2-1 victory in Georgia. Daryl Murphy scored his first Ireland goal on his 24th appearance to recover a 2-2 draw against Serbia.