Germany too strong for Azerbaijan in warm-up for Russian encounter...
Germany maintained a one-point advantage over Russia in Group 4, following a 4-0 win against Azerbaijan. Miroslav Klose bagged a brace, and Michael Ballack and Lukas Podolski netted a goal apiece for Germany.
In somewhat of a surprising move, Germany coach Joachim Loew opted to change his tactics and replace several members of the squad that beat South Africa 2-0 on Saturday.
Shifting from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2, Loew swapped Marko Marin and Simon Rolfes for Thomas Hitzlsperger and Lukas Podolski. In defense, centre backs Serdar Tasci and Arne Friedrich replaced Heiko Westermann and Per Mertesacker.
Azerbaijan coach Berti Vogts, by contrast, fielded the same lineup that performed well in a 2-1 loss against Finland last weekend.
Germany started off well, pelting the visitors' goal with three shots in the first ten minutes alone. Azerbaijan keeper Kamran Arhayev did well to save each shot, especially Bastian Schweinsteiger's long-range cracker that was headed just below the crossbar.
Arhayev's efforts would not be enough to make up for his team's low-intensity defense. Germany were given far too much space and time on the ball, and systematically passed around their opponents' defense.
The opener, a penalty, came from Michael Ballack after Lukas Podolski was dragged down in the box following a well weighted through ball from Mario Gomez.
Ballack nearly turned provider for Gomez just four minutes later, but the Bayern striker's free header was spectacularly saved by the in-form Arhayev. After the first 20 minutes, Germany became dangerously sloppy in possession, and Azerbaijan grew increasingly threatening as the half wore on.
Rene Adler received his first real test when he saved Alkeksandr Chertoganov's twisting, long-ranged effort in the 37th minute. From the resulting corner, the German defense watched the ball trickle to Mahir Shukurov, whose low drive was well held onto by the ever-impressive Adler.
The first half ended not in a flurry, but instead petered out with Azerbaijan encouraged for having pressured the Germans after such a poor start. For Jogi Loew, it was back to the drawing board as he tried to rouse his team from its post-goalscoring slumber.
Loew made two changes to his squad after the break: Miroslav Klose replaced Mario Gomez up front, and Andreas Beck came on for Marcel Schaefer, causing Philipp Lahm to switch from right to left fullback.
If Azerbaijan were encouraged by their performance over the last 20 minutes of the first half, their hopes were greatly diminished just four minutes into the second period.
As Germany broke forward, Abbasov committed a sloppy tackle on Miroslav Klose and was sent off for his second booking. Klose, having appeared to have lost his starting role at Bayern Munich, was in scintillating form after his substitution.
His 52nd minute volley was only stopped by a majestic diving save, but it took just three minutes more for Klose to open his account. Following a trademark Philipp Lahm run and cut to the center, Klose was picked out with a clever ball and tucked past the goalkeeper.
As time passed, it became increasingly apparent that Azerbaijan had reverted to the kind of non-defending that saw them utterly dominated for the opening 20 minutes.
The score could easily have become ugly in a hurry, but Arhayev was rock-solid, and Lukas Podolski (who, unmarked and in the center of the box, sent a shot into orbit) was terribly out of form.
Klose earned his brace shortly after the hour mark after some nice playmaking from Oezil and Beck. The latter crossed a bouncing ball in front of goal, and Klose poked a volley on and past Arhayev.
Podolski finally earned his 34th international strike in the 71st minute. Oezil picked out Klose with a cross, and the latter headed down for Podolski, who volleyed home.
Klose nearly had his hat trick after 81 minutes when he was played clear on goal, but was clipped from behind by substitute Ernani Pereira on what was adjudged to be the edge of the penalty area.
The contact appeared to be accidental, but given the situation and proximity to goal, Pereira was lucky to have escaped with just a yellow card. Over the last ten minutes, Piotr Trochowski made an appeal to Loew to use him in the starting lineup, but never found the net.
Two good attempts in extra time came close, but were not enough to beat Arhayev.
In the end, Azerbaijan were unable to compete after Abbasov’s sending off. Berti Vogts will be displeased to have lost by such a great margin.
Clark Whitney, Goal.com