MADRID — 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 in 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 was calm throughout the match,” Rodrigo said. “Everybody respects each other here, and he is a very important player for this national team.”
Pique will not play on Monday in Israel because of a yellow card suspension.
Spain was in control from the start in Alicante, with Rodrigo opening the scoring in the 16th minute with a left-footed shot from inside the area after a well-placed pass by Isco. Rodrigo controlled the ball with his chest before finding the top corner with a half-volley for his first international goal.
Isco added to the lead four minutes later with a shot into the top of the net for his fifth goal in seven qualifiers, and Thiago Alcantara closed the scoring 10 minutes later with a driving header after a right cross by Alvaro Odriozola, who was making his debut at right back.
Spain was without Andres Iniesta, Dani Carvajal, and Alvaro Morata because of injuries.
Italy practically secured a playoff spot but was jeered by the home fans after drawing with Macedonia.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini gave Italy the lead shortly before halftime but substitute Aleksandar Trajkovski leveled with 13 minutes remaining.
Italy didn’t have a shot on target after Chiellini’s goal against a side outside of the top 100 in FIFA’s rankings.
Italy reached 20 points from its nine qualifying matches, seven points in front of third-place Albania.
Defender Eytan Tibi scored his first international goal as Israel gave last-place Liechtenstein its ninth straight loss.
Liechtenstein has been outscored 35 to one in its nine qualifying matches.
It was the fourth win for Israel.
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni