Germany took a decisive step nearer the 2010 World Cup finals with a 2-0 win in Azerbaijan to open up a four-point gap at the top of European qualifying group four.
Goals early in each half from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose sealed victory for Joachim Loew’s side, who have played a game more than closest rivals Russia. Germany’s trip to face Russia in Moscow on October 10 is likely to decide who tops the group, but Wednesday’s win gives the Germans breathing space as they retained their unbeaten record in qualifying. Loew was able to call on the services of captain Michael Ballack, who had been an injury doubt, and his team took just 12 minutes to get on the scoresheet. Bayern Munich star Schweinsteiger picked up the ball just outside the penalty area and blasted home a long-range shot. Minnows Azerbaijan could create little threat and Germany doubled their lead when Bayern’s new striker Mario Gomez saw his shot saved and teammate Klose headed home the rebound. Meanwhile, France secured a much-needed three points in group seven with a scarcely convincing 1-0 win in the Faroe Islands. Andre-Pierre Gignac scored the only goal of the match in the 42nd minute after an assist from Chelsea’s Florent Malouda. France could not capitalize on their domination to score more goals against the minnows, but the three points see them move to within five points of group leaders Serbia, who have played a game more. Raymond Domenech’s men next host Romania at the Stade de France on September. 5 and play Serbia in Belgrade four days later in crucial qualifying matches.
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In group nine, Norway revived their qualification hopes with a 4-0 thumping of Scotland in Oslo. With the Netherlands already qualified as group winners, the four other teams are battling for a likely playoff spot for second place and Norway’s win was much-needed. The turning point came late in the second half as Scotland’s Gary Caldwell was sent off for two yellow cards inside a minute. Goals from John Arne Riise and Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pedersen quickly followed. In the second half Erik Husekleep’s first international goal and Pedersen’s last minute free-kick completed the rout. The home side, with Egil Olsen back in charge, had started the match bottom of the group, but their win puts them just one point behind second-placed Macedonia and Scotland, who have a vastly inferior goal difference.