Germany flying, England misfiring in World Cup qualifying
BERLIN (AP) While Germany eased to its second win in World Cup qualifying on Saturday, England showed it has much to do to placate fans frustrated that their expectations are not being met.
Germany comfortably defeated the Czech Republic 3-0 and might have won by more, earning plaudits from supporters who indulged in Mexican waves and created a carnival atmosphere in Hamburg.
England could manage only a 2-0 win over lowly Malta, a side ranked 176th by FIFA, for an uninspired start following coach Sam Allardyce's dismissal over comments in a newspaper sting that called his integrity into question.
Elsewhere, Robert Lewandowski scored for the seventh straight qualifying game, this time hitting a hat trick for Poland to beat Denmark 3-2 in Warsaw.
Here's a closer look at Saturday's qualifying games and their respective groups. Only the group winners automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Thomas Mueller scored twice for the second game running as Germany produced a polished performance to see off the Czech Republic.
Mueller, who scored twice in the opening 3-0 win in Norway, is yet to score in six Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich this season, but he opened the scoring early and completed it in the second half after Toni Kroos doubled the lead.
Germany had almost three-quarters of the possession in the first half, seemingly almost all of it in the Czechs' half, while 93 percent passing accuracy was an indication of the home side's dominance.
The only quibble coach Joachim Loew could have had was that his side did not add to its goal tally despite the glut of chances before the break.
Loew previously suggested the Czech Republic, which drew with Northern Ireland 0-0 in its opening group game, was Germany's toughest group opponent, but on this display it seems the World Cup champion will have little trouble in qualifying.
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland defeated San Marino 4-0 in Belfast, and Maksim Medvedev's early goal was enough for Azerbaijan to beat Norway 1-0 in Baku, giving the team two wins in a World Cup group for the first time.
Gareth Southgate enjoyed a straightforward but unchallenging introduction to international management as a second new England era in a month opened with the victory over Malta.
Daniel Sturridge's header from Jordan Henderson's cross, and Dele Alli's strike in the first half sealed it, but England lacked dynamism and urgency up front, especially in the second half.
Regardless, this performance is unlikely to be a factor when the Football Association decides whether to entrust Southgate with the job as Allardyce's permanent successor.
Southgate was rapidly promoted from the under-21s last week after Allardyce was dismissed, his tenure lasting only 67 days.
Scotland substitute James McArthur scored late to salvage a 1-1 draw with Lithuania in Glasgow, while another substitute, Rok Kronaveter earned Slovenia a 1-0 win at home over Slovakia.
Lewandowski again met high expectations by scoring for the seventh consecutive qualifier with his third hat trick of the season to beat Denmark.
He netted a cross by Kamil Grosicki in the 20th minute, and converted a penalty 16 minutes later. The hat trick was completed two minutes into the second half of a matchup between the two leading contenders to advance from Group E.
An own goal by Kamil Glik gave Denmark its first goal, two minutes after Lewandowski's third, and substitute Yussuf Poulsen added the second in the 69th.
Poland, chasing its first World Cup finals since 2006, is tied atop the group with Romania, which routed Armenia 5-0 away, and Montenegro, which grabbed its first win in qualifying with a 5-0 win over Kazakhstan in Podgorica. Denmark trails by a point.