HANNOVER, Germany (AP) — Two quick-fire goals earned Germany a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland to put the defending champions in control of World Cup qualifying Group C on Tuesday.
Early goals from Julian Draxler and then Sami Khedira maintained Germany’s perfect start after three games with no goals conceded and moved it two points clear of Azerbaijan, which settled for a scoreless draw against the Czech Republic in Ostrava.
“We completed the job,” said Joachim Low, who equaled Sepp Herberger’s record of 94 wins as Germany coach. “It wasn’t quite so easy because they defended deep and made space scarce.”
Norway defeated San Marino 4-1 in Oslo for its first points in the group, though the visitors, ranked 201st in world football, were celebrating their first away goal in World Cup qualifying since 2001 after Mattia Stefanelli had equalized nine minutes into the second half.
Only the group winners automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and Low kept faith with the same starters from Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Czech Republic, forcing Ilkay Gundogan to be patient with Khedira preferred to partner Toni Kroos in the center.
“It went so well against the Czech Republic that I thought we’d play a half like that again. I figured we’d score one or two goals and then we could give players a rest,” Low said.
Mario Gotze was first to test visiting ‘keeper Michael McGovern, and Jonas Hector fired over after Khedira and Draxler were blocked as Germany made an impressive start.
The reward arrived in the 13th minute when Thomas Muller set up Draxler to let fly inside the right post from edge of the penalty area for his third international goal.
Khedira doubled the lead four minutes later, heading in from close range after Mats Hummels headed on a corner. It was Khedira’s first goal for Germany since the 7-1 win over Brazil at the 2014 World Cup and it looked like another rout was on the cards with the German attack looking ominous.
But the visitors recovered and enjoyed a good spell afterward, asking questions of the German defense and working hard to maintain possession. Jamie Ward had a chance though Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer never looked in trouble.
Gotze thought he’d scored but the effort was ruled out as the ball went out of play before Mueller pulled it back. Then Josh Magennis tested Neuer at the other end.
Jerome Boateng brought Corry Evans down right on the edge of the penalty area and Oliver Norwood fired the resultant free kick just over as the visitors finished the half strongly.
Gundogan came on for Mesut Ozil at the break, when it was clear Low’s words had had an effect on the energized home side for the second half.
Again Germany dominated possession, as it had early in the game, and again the visitors were forced to defend in numbers.
McGovern made a good save to deny Khedira from making it a third successive 3-0 win late on.
“The steam ran out a bit in the second half, but it was a fair result,” Khedira said.