England ground out a low-key 2-0 victory over Malta in the 2018 World Cup qualifier in interim manager Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge, while defending champion Germany strolled past the Czech Republic 3-0.
Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli scored first-half goals in front of a crowd of 82,000 at Wembley to steer England to a second straight win in Group F, leaving it two points clear at the top.
Liverpool striker Sturridge headed superbly back across Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg in the 29th minute following an inviting cross from club team-mate Jordan Henderson.
Alli then combined cleverly with Henderson to grab England’s second goal seven minutes before half-time, the duo exchanging passes on the edge of the area before the former poked home the rebound after his initial effort was saved.
“We, at times, played some really nice stuff in both halves, and had plenty of chances to have made it more comfortable,” said Southgate, who has been appointed on a temporary basis following Sam Allardyce’s shock departure.
“In the second half, subconsciously, there was a feeling the game was won and we were looking towards Tuesday physically. We didn’t bomb forward as we might have done had the scoreline been tighter. There’s room for improvement, but that’s not a bad place for us to be.”
Southgate and England will expect a much trickier assignment in Ljubljana when it takes on Slovenia, which claimed an important 1-0 home win over Slovakia, in three days’ time.
Substitute James McArthur rescued a point for Scotland with an 89th-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home to Lithuania, which had taken the lead through skipper Fiodor Cernych.
Thomas Muller netted a brace with Toni Kroos also on target as reigning world champion Germany extended its perfect start to Group C against the Czech Republic in Hamburg.
Muller failed to score at Euro 2016 this summer but has since rediscovered his goalscoring touch at international level with four goals in his country’s opening two qualifiers.
He tucked away Mario Gotze’s pass to nudge Germany ahead on 13 minutes, before converting a Jonas Hector cross midway through the second half after Kroos had doubled the lead shortly after the break.
Kyle Lafferty struck twice, Steven Davis converted a penalty and Jamie Ward also scored to hand Northern Ireland a 4-0 win over San Marino, while Norway suffered a shock 1-0 loss away to Azerbaijan, which now has two wins from two.
Robert Lewandowski, Mueller’s strike partner at Bayern Munich, tormented Denmark as he grabbed a hat-trick in a 3-2 victory in Warsaw to leave Poland level on four points with Montenegro and Romania in Group E.
Romania thrashed 10-man Armenia 5-0 in Yerevan as the visitors punished their opponents after the dismissal of Gor Malakyan in just the third minute, while Montenegro defeated Kazakhstan by the same scoreline.
Europe: Group C: Azerbaijan 1 (Medvedev 11) bt Norway 0; Germany 3 (Muller 13, 65, Kroos 49) bt Czech Republic 0.
Northern Ireland 4 (Davis 26-pen, Lafferty 79, 90+4, Ward 85) bt San Marino 0.
Group E: Armenia 0 lost to Romania 5 (Stancu 4-pen, Popa 10, Marin 12, Stanciu 29, Chipciu 60); Montenegro 5 (Tomasevic 24, Vukcevic 59, Jovetic 64, Beciraj 73, Savic 78) bt Kazakhstan 0.
Poland 3 (Lewandowski 20, 36-pen, 48) bt Denmark 2 (Glik 49-og, Poulsen 69).
Group F: England 2 (Sturridge 29, Alli 38) bt Malta 0; Scotland 1 (McArthur 89) drew with Lithuania 1 (Cernych 59); Slovenia 1 (Kronaveter 74) bt Slovakia 0.