A Mario Mandzukic hat-trick was the main headline from a busy night of World Cup qualifying across the globe on Thursday, which yielded victories for Mario’s Croatia (6-0), Juan Cuadrado’s Colombia (1-0) and Dani Alves’ Brazil (5-0).
There were scoring draws meanwhile for Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli at Juventus Stadium against Spain (1-1) and Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala’s Argentina (2-2) in Peru.
Beginning in with the evening’s star performer, Mandzukic’s first-half triple had all but sealed the points for his side before the interval as the Croatians put Kosovo to the sword in Shkoder in Albania. The Juventus striker was withdrawn on the hour for Fiorentina man Nikola Kalinic who would go on to net himself in stoppage time.
A tougher 90 minutes were in store for Italy in Turin, the Azzurri requiring a Daniele De Rossi penalty to salvage a draw against Spain. In a rematch of the Euro 2016 first knockout round encounter, it was the visitors that had the better of proceedings this time around.
Taking the lead through Vitolo on 55 minutes having dominated possession throughout the first period, the Spaniards succumbed late on to De Rossi’s spot-kick after Sergio Ramos’ trip on Eder to extend the Italians’ unbeaten run in qualifying to 52 matches.
There were similarly mixed fortunes meanwhile for Argentina, held to a 2-2 draw by Peru in Lima overnight. Twice taking the lead through Ramiro Funes Mori and Higuain – partnered by Dybala in attack for the final half an hour - the 2014 World Cup runners-up twice let it slip, Cristian Cueva scoring from 12 yards with six minutes remaining to see the game end in a stalemate.
A pair of victories made for a much more satisfying evening for Cuadrado and Dani Alves on the other hand, the former playing for 82 minutes in his team’s 1-0 success over Paraguay, the latter featuring for the full 90 in the Selecao’s 5-0 thumping of Bolivia in Natal.
Earlier in the day, Emil Audero’s Italy U20 side ran out 3-0 winners over Poland in Gorgonzola in a friendly.