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Mueller ends drought with brace as Germany brush Norway aside – Scotland’s hat-trick hero Snodgrass puts bad times behind him

Czech Republic’s David Pavelka (left), challenges Northern Ireland’s Jamie Ward (right), during their World Cup Group C qualifying soccer match in Prague, Czech Republic on Sept 4. (AP)
Czech Republic’s David Pavelka (left), challenges Northern Ireland’s Jamie Ward (right), during their World Cup Group C qualifying soccer match in Prague, Czech Republic on Sept 4. (AP)

OSLO, Sept 5, (RTRS): Thomas Mueller put his EURO 2016 goal drought behind him, scoring twice to give dominant Germany an easy 3-0 win away to Norway in their opening World Cup qualifier on Sunday.

Mueller took advantage of shoddy Norwegian defending to give the title holders an early lead and headed the third goal on the hour of the European Group C game.

In between, he produced a superb pass to set up Joshua Kimmich for his first international goal.

Germany made light of the absence of Jerome Boateng, Mario Gomez and Andre Schuerrle, plus Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger who both have retired from international football.

They enjoyed 68 percent of the possession, spent nearly the entire game inside the Norway half and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, given the captaincy in place of Schweinsteiger, did not have to save a single shot on target.

“We controlled everything, we didn’t allow Norway to get into the game and we didn’t allow them any scoring chances,” said Loew. “I’m happy with the performance.

“It was good for Mueller to get the goal and good for us,” he said, then added jokingly: “I would have preferred him to have scored some goals in the European championship.”

Norway, who beat Germany 1-0 away in a friendly in 2009 when the teams last met, lacked ambition from the outset but any plans they may have had of frustrating the visitors were quickly torpedoed.

The home defence twice failed to clear the ball and Mueller, who failed to hit the target in EURO 2016, managed to score with a deflected shot despite being off-balance in the 15th minute.

A lucky bounce gave Norway a rare opening but Joshua King, given a free shot on goal, sent his effort high and wide.

Germany, who had not played Norway in a competitive game since 1953, scored again on the stroke of halftime when Mueller threaded the ball to Kimmich who drove it into the far corner, leaving two Norway defenders on the ground.

The second half continued in a similar vein and it was no surprise when Mueller added a third, heading in from Sami Khedira’s cross for his 34th international goal.

It was the perfect start for Germany in what appears to be one of the easiest qualifying groups. They were given another boost when the Czech Republic, who were expected to be their nearest rivals, dropped two home points in a 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland.

In the group’s other game, Ruslan Gurbanov’s goal on the stroke of halftime gave Azerbaijan a 1-0 win at minnows San Marino.

Scotland 5, Malta 1

In Ta’Qali, Scotland’s Robert Snodgrass scored his first ever hat-trick to complete a heartwarming international comeback as they breezed past Malta 5-1 at the Ta’Qali National Stadium on Sunday.

The Hull City midfielder missed all the EURO 2016 qualifiers after suffered a career-threatening kneecap injury in 2014 which kept him out of football for almost 18 months.

But he returned to score in Hull’s opening Premier League game of the season and continued his rich form in Malta.

Snodgrass opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a cross that somehow floated over goalkeeper Andrew Hogg, added a second from the penalty spot just past the hour mark and netted again with a close range finish in the 84th minute.

Scotland’s Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher also scored after Alfred Effiong equalised for Malta, who finished with nine men. Jonathan Caruana was dismissed for the foul that gave the visitors their penalty and Luke Gambin saw red in added time.

The win puts Scotland ahead of neighbours England, who won 1-0 in Slovakia, on goal difference in Group F after one match.

N.Ireland 0, Czech Rep 0

In Prague, the Czech Republic, who had a disappointing EURO 2016 in which they picked up one point, were held 0-0 at home by a battling Northern Ireland side in their opening European Group C qualifier for the 2018 World Cup.

The Czechs could have gone ahead in the fourth minute when a cross found right back Pavel Kaderabek unmarked inside the six-yard box but it was at waist height and he only managed to put the ball over the bar with his thigh.

Paddy McNair had a shot from outside the box for Northern Ireland, who reached the last 16 at EURO 2016 in France before being eliminated by Wales, after nearly half an hour but it was just held by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.

The home side had the lion’s share of half chances in a frantic second half with Michael McGovern’s saves and fine defending by Jonny Evans keeping them out while the Irish always posed a danger on the break.

A share of the points left world champions Germany top of the group after a 3-0 win in Norway and Azerbaijan second following their 1-0 win in San Marino.

Ronanica 1, Montenegrol 1

In Cluj, Romania, Nicolae Stanciu missed a penalty in the sixth minute of stoppage time as Romania were held to a 1-1 at home by Montenegro in a World Cup qualifier, giving their new coach Christoph Daum a nerve-wracking start.

Romania appeared to have clinched the points in the European Group E match when substitute Adrian Popa kept his composure to score after the ball was deflected to him in the 85th minute.

Montenegro levelled 90 seconds later when Steven Jovetic headed in Damir Kojasevic’s free kick, then Romania were awarded a last-gasp penalty only for Stanciu to send his shot well over the crossbar.

Much-travelled German Daum became Romania’s first foreign coach for more than 80 years when he replaced Anghel Iordanescu, who stepped down after Romania’s failure to make it past the first round of EURO 2016. “My boys deserved to win if I judge by their efforts and especially by what they did in the second half,” he said.

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