Germany crush Azerbaijan 4-1 to go seven points clear

BAKU (Reuters) - World champions Germany cruised to a comfortable 4-1 victory over Azerbaijan on Sunday to stay on track for a spot in next year's World Cup in Russia after opening up a seven-point lead in Group C.

First-half goals from Andre Schuerrle, Thomas Mueller and Mario Gomez put the visitors in control of the game in Baku with the hosts briefly equalising.

Schuerrle scored his second of the evening 10 minutes from time to give the Germans their fifth win in five qualifying matches and stretch their unbeaten run on the road in World Cup qualifiers to 44.

They are top of the group on 15 points. Group winners automatically qualify for the World Cup.

The Czech Republic are second on eight following their demolition of San Marino while Northern Ireland are a point behind and face Norway later on Sunday. Azerbaijan are also on seven.

Schuerrle, whose last start for Germany was back in October 2015, made the most of his chance, tapping in after 19 minutes following good work down the wing from Jonas Hector.

Coach Joachim Loew made seven changes to the team that beat England 1-0 in their friendly earlier this week, with Julian Draxler, Gomez and Mueller in the starting lineup.

The Germans conceded their first goal of the campaign when Dmitrij Nazarov sneaked into the box and fired in the equaliser in the 30th against the run of play.

Azerbaijan's joy was short-lived, with Schuerrle pouncing on a defensive error to send Mueller through, and the attacking midfielder had no trouble rounding the keeper to put the visitors back into the driving seat in the 36th.

Gomez, who has scored in his last three league matches, headed in their third on the stroke of halftime.

The Azeris failed to mount any serious challenge in the second half with Germany content to control possession and set the pace. Schuerrle completed their win with a powerful shot from 12 metres out.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Clare Fallon)