Germany has defeated Azerbaijan by four goals to nil in Hanover, and now turns its attention to its vital Oct. 10 showdown in Moscow with Group Four rivals Russia.
Germany's Michael Ballack, right, scores the opening goal
Germany Captain Michael Ballack scored the opening goal from the penalty spot in the 13th minute after Lukas Podolski was brought down by Azerbaijan captain Samir Abbasov.
The underdogs bounced back and nearly grabbed an equalizer in the 37th minute, but Germany goalkeeper Rene Adler saved the close range shot by Mahir Shukurov.
Super-sub Miroslav Klose came on for striker Mario Gomez and went on to bag two goals in the second half. Lukas Podolski got Germany's fourth in the 71st minute to seal the victory.
The win means Germany go top of their group with 22 points from their eight games. They have the chance of qualifying automatically for the World Cup finals if they can beat Russia in Moscow on Oct. 10.
Ballack said his side began strongly but then failed to make their mark. It wasn't until the second half that Germany’s game began to flow more. This was made easier when Azerbaijan's captain, Abbasov, was sent off.
One last hurdle
Gomez couldn't find the net
Ballack, who plays his club soccer for Chelsea in the English Premier League, said the upcoming game with Russia would be the toughest of the whole campaign.
"We have reached our target, now it will come down to the wire," said the German captain. "We did what we had to do. Now we face our most difficult game and we have to prepare well for the game in Russia."
However Germany national coach Joachim Loew slammed his side's performance in the first half. "I told the team in very clear terms at halftime that we can't accept a performance like that and the spectators' whistles also made it clear they were not happy," Loew said.
Germany was booed off the pitch by some of the 30,000 fans in the AWD stadium in Hanover.
"But after the break we came from the outside and our game was much better. Our qualifying campaign is on track and we have done well. I am confident for our match against Russia," the coach added.
Loew said Germany's first half was below par
Loew went into the match with an ace up his sleeve, and his decision to bring on Bayern Munich star Klose to spearhead a 4-3-3 formation was a good tactical decision.
Klose has now scored 47 goals for Germany, leaving him joint third in the list of all-time German top scorers alongside Rudi Voeller and Juergen Klinsmann.
"For Klose, the second half was liberating as he showed what he can do," said Loew. "He is not yet 100 percent fit, but he was outstanding. Both he and Lukas Podolski have unbelievable goal-to-game ratios.
"We now have 22 points from a possible 24, which is near perfect in terms of qualification.”
Azerbaijan coach Berti Vogts, who is also a former Germany coach, said he was happy his side gave the Germans a run for their money, adding that the red card given to his captain was the turning point in the game.
"You can't play against a team like Germany with 10 players," said Vogts. "It is like playing against 11 robots. They are simply too strong and organized for that."
European nations through
Berti Vogts' side was outclassed
In other World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday night, European champions Spain, along with the Netherlands and England, clinched their spots for a trip to South Africa. England cruised into next summer's finals with a 5-1 mauling of Croatia, Holland knocked out Scotland with a 1-0 win, while Spain shut down Estonia 3-0.
Meanwhile Portugal is still in with a chance of qualifying thanks to a 1-0 win at Group One rivals Hungary. France, however, is still struggling, with Serbia staying four points clear atop Group Seven after a 1-1 draw in which both sides finished with 10 men.
In Group One, Denmark were held to a 1-1 draw at Albania but they lead the group on 18 points, ahead of Sweden (15) who eked a 1-0 win in Malta, and Portugal and Hungary (both on 13).
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey finished 1-1 which leaves Turkey still four points adrift of Bosnia who would clinch second place in Group Five with a win at Estonia next month.
Switzerland remains three points clear at the top of Group Two after a 2-2 draw at Latvia and Greece missed a chance to make up ground after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Moldova. Greece and Latvia stay level on 14 points, with Israel moving to 12 after a 7-0 hammering of Luxembourg.
Slovakia greatly improved their qualification chances with a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast to move five points clear at the top of Group Three.
Slovenia beat Poland 3-0 to move into second in the group, level on 14 points with Northern Ireland but with a game in hand. Poland's coach Leo Beenhaaker immediately was sacked. Belgium's interim coach Franky Vercauteren has also thrown in the town after his side went down 2-1 against Armenia and ending their chances of qualifying. And the Czech Republic embarassed San Marino 7-0 to stay in the running on 12 points.
Editor: Trinity Hartmann