Germany has made a flying start to its mission to become the first country in more than 50 years to defend its World Cup title.
With an emphatic win in Norway, the Germans got July's European Championship semifinal loss to France out of their system Sunday.
Even Thomas Mueller has regained his confidence, putting his perplexing Germany goal drought behind him by scoring twice in the 3-0 win at the start of World Cup qualifying.
Mueller scrambled in the opener in the 15th minute after his first attempt was blocked by Even Hovland and Havard Nordtveit before heading in his second on the hour. For good measure, Mueller also set up Bayern Munich teammate Joshua Kimmich for his first international goal.
"With Thomas Mueller I'd rather he had scored a few goals at the European Championship," Germany coach Joachim Loew joked of the forward who hadn't scored internationally since October 2015.
Not since Brazil in 1962 has a team won back-to-back world titles. For now the priority is qualifying for Russia and only the group winners automatically gain a place at the tournament in 2018. Eight of the nine best runner-ups from the groups contest playoffs.
Also in Germany's group, Ruslan Gurbanov's first international goal gave Azerbaijan a 1-0 win in San Marino, which had defender Cristian Brolli sent off early in the second half. Northern Ireland held the Czech Republic to a goalless draw in Prague, where Karel Jarolim endured a frustrating debut in charge of the hosts.
Adam Lallana pounced in the fifth minute of stoppage time to ensure Sam Allardyce made a winning start as England manager, clinching a 1-0 victory over Slovakia.
England had a man-advantage from the 57th minute when Martin Skrtel received a second yellow card for another foul on Harry Kane but the visitors left it late to break through Slovakia's resistance. Sloppy goalkeeping helped Lallana score his first England goal in his 27th international after his shot went through Matus Kozacik's legs.
"Everyone back home was waiting with bated breath and we scored the winner," said Allardyce, who never featured for England as a player and has only previously managed modest domestic clubs. "We dominated the game and finally got what we deserved. The result did us justice in the end."
Wayne Rooney became England's most capped outfield player, surpassing the record he held with David Beckham, by making a 116th appearance. Goalkeeper Peter Shilton made a record 125 England appearances between 1970 and 1990.
England's next group opponent in October is Malta, which was routed 5-1 by neighbor Scotland. Robert Snodgrass scored a hat trick, with the opener a cross that flew over backtracking goalkeeper Andrew Hogg. Two Malta players — Jonathan Caruana and Luke Gambin — were sent off in the second half for fouling Snodgrass.
Surprise starter Chris Martin and substitute Steven Fletcher also scored for Scotland, which is looking to qualify for its first tournament since the 1998 World Cup.
Slovenia staged a late fightback to draw 2-2 at Lithuania.
Denmark is setting the early pace after Christian Eriksen sealed a 1-0 win over Armenia.
Poland threw away a two-goal lead, secured by Bartosz Kapustka and captain Robert Lewandowski, to draw 2-2 in Kazakhstan. Two quick goals in the second half from Sergei Khizhnichenko ensured Kazakhstan opened qualifying with a point.
Romania was held to a 1-1 draw by Montenegro with Nicolae Stanciu missing the chance to win it for the hosts when he missed a penalty in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
Published Date: Sep 05, 2016 09:50 am | Updated Date: Sep 05, 2016 09:50 am