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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Holds Italy to Scoreless Draw

TBILISI, Georgia -- Italy was held to a scoreless draw in Georgia on Wednesday, almost certainly forcing it to beat England in Rome next month if it is to qualify automatically for the World Cup finals.


The Georgians, a bogey team for Italy, which only scraped a 1-0 win at home last October, had slightly the better of an even European Group 2 match with few real scoring chances.


A low powerful strike by substitute Filippo Inzaghi in the last minute was not enough to beat Nika Togonidze in the Georgian goal.


Coach Cesare Maldini pulled off Gianfranco Zola and the rest of his forward line in a desperate hunt for a late goal, but will fly home knowing Italy must shake off a lot of early season rust to be sure of qualifying for France next year.


Assuming England overcomes Moldova at Wembley later Wednesday, Italy will go into the last match in Rome on Oct. 11 a point behind the English.


Both teams could well qualify as the best European runner-up, but neither will want to take the chance.


Meanwhile, Albania stunned Northern Ireland with a 1-0 win for only its second World Cup qualifying victory of the '90s.


Neither country had any hope of qualifying for the finals in France next year and were fighting only for respectability and their own individual pride in European Group 9 led by Ukraine, Germany and Portugal.


Albania, with just 1 point from its eight matches in the campaign to date and without a win in a qualifier since 1992, took the lead through a precise shot by midfielder Altin Haxhi, 22, in the 69th minute.


Haxhi picked up a badly-cleared ball by defender Colin Hill and his shot bounced off the post and into the net.


It proved enough to give Albania, playing in Zurich because of unrest at home, its first win over the Northern Irish in eight attempts and only its fifth victory in World Cup qualifiers since the first in 1964.


Both countries joined in a minute's silence before the match as a mark of respect for Britain's Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, who was of Albanian parentage.


Also, Austria beat Belarus 1-0 in their Group 4 qualifier.


Injured England striker Alan Shearer said Tuesday that he would be surprised to be playing again by January and could not guarantee his fitness for next year's World Cup.


"I hope to be fit for the World Cup finals, if we qualify," the Daily Express newspaper quoted him as saying in an interview.


"If I'm not, I'm not, although I'd be extremely disappointed if I'm not fit by then."