Defending champion Germany stayed perfect in World Cup qualifying despite conceding its first goal in Group C with a 4-1 win in Azerbaijan on Sunday.
Little-used forward Andre Schuerrle scored two and set up another.
“We absolutely fulfilled our duty,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said after the fifth win from five games in its group. “It was like a cup game against a team from a lower division. If you don’t go in at the top of your game, you make them stronger than they are.”
Germany has scored 20 goals so far in its campaign and is looking to clinch qualification as soon as possible.
“We’ve always clearly won against the smaller nations in the last years and that’s down to the players that lead the team,” Loew said.
Germany leads by five points from Northern Ireland, which defeated Norway 2-0 in Belfast thanks to first-half goals from Jamie Ward and Conor Washington. The Czech Republic, which racked up a 6-0 win in San Marino, is two points further back, one ahead of Azerbaijan.
Loew had expressed his faith in Schuerrle before the game in Baku, despite the player making seven of his 15 Bundesliga appearances and five of his six Champions League games as a substitute for Borussia Dortmund this season.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Loew said of Schuerrle’s performance after giving the 26-year-old his first Germany start for 1 1/2 years. “I hope it gives him a boost for Dortmund.”
Schuerrle broke the deadlock in the 19th minute. Julian Draxler spotted Jonas Hector free to his left and passed for the defender to send it straight back for Schuerrle, who finished from close range.
Just as it seemed the visitors were completely in control, Dimitrij Nazarov equalized in the 31st with a perfectly placed shot inside the far post after four Germany defenders failed to stop Afran Ismaylov from picking him out. It was the first goal Germany had conceded in qualifiers for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
“I would have liked that we made fewer mistakes after taking the lead,” Loew said. “We lost our way.”
Thomas Mueller restored the lead minutes later, running into Schuerrle’s pass, taking it past the goalkeeper with his right foot and finishing into the empty net with his left.
Joshua Kimmich crossed for Mario Gomez to make it 3-1 with a header before the break.
The home side started the second half with renewed vigor, though without troubling Bernd Leno, playing instead of the injured Manuel Neuer in the Germany goal.
Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil came on for the final half-hour, but it was Schuerrle who had the final say, blasting the ball to the roof of the net from Hector’s pull-back to complete the scoring in the 81st.