Germany's national soccer team continued its strong start in FIFA World Cup qualifying Tuesday, picking up a second consecutive three-goal win over Kazakhstan. Marco Reus bagged a brace, while Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan also netted in a Dortmund-dominated display in Nurnberg.
Germany is now running away with Group C, with their 16 points double the total of each of the three teams below them—Austria, Sweden and Republic of Ireland. The lone two points dropped came in the horrendous 4-4 draw with Sweden back in October.
Were it not for Holland skipping merrily through Group D (six wins from six matches) Germany would be the top team in this qualification round. Aside from that slip-up five long months ago, they've handled their business quite well to this point.
And yet, as we look around the rest of the qualification scene, some of the continent's other powerhouse squads have been less than impressive lately.
Group F was supposed to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal flying high atop the standings, yet through six matches they find themselves in third with 11 points. Russia not only have 12 points, but two games in hand as well, while Israel hold the second spot on goal difference.
Indeed, the Ronaldo-led squad required a last-gasp, somewhat lucky goal from Fabio Coentrao to even salvage a 3-3 draw against Israel on Friday. Their opener in Tuesday's 2-0 away win against Azerbaijan without their suspended captain came only after their opponents went down to 10 men nearly an hour into the match.
England followed up their straightforward romp over San Marino by not being able to put away a pesky Montenegro side yet again. In almost a perfect re-run of the Euro 2012 qualifier a couple years back, the Three Lions let an early lead slip, slumping to a 1-1 draw in Podgorica.
The hosts shook off Wayne Rooney's sixth-minute opener to pick up the draw in the last 15 minutes, and as such remain on top of Group H on 14 points. England remain two back and will be in search of help from the likes of Ukraine if they wish to rise to the top of the heap.
Spain's 1-0 win over France gives them a leg up over their neighbors in the Group I standings, but all hasn't come easy for the world champions. That hard-fought victory in Paris comes on the heels of Friday's disappointing home draw with Finland.
A 4-0 win over Belarus aside, Spain has scored just one goal in each of the other four qualifiers. They've been unconvincing in attack, but at least they don't have to deal with France anymore. But traveling to Finland could be a tricky encounter, one that could endanger their status at the top of the group.
Germany, of course, don't have to deal with such threats. Eight points clear with four matches to be played, they stand a strong chance of being the first side to qualify from UEFA alongside Holland. Who would bet against them?
To think, they've scored seven goals over two games—against Kazakhstan, mind you—without the use of an out-and-out striker. Gotze has impressed in a "false-nine" role, while the likes of Reus, Gundogan and Mesut Ozil have been strong behind him.
If Joachim Low brings back a true striker like Mario Gomez or Miroslav Klose in later matches, then Gotze could drop back into the hole with Reus and Thomas Muller flanking him. If he supplants Ozil, that is. Selection problems much?
This is a squad loaded with world-class talent that is not only proving itself constantly, but is young enough to keep getting better. The Dortmund trio that scored Tuesday are all 23 or younger, while Ozil is 24 and Bayern duo Muller and Toni Kroos are both 23.
Germany might not have supplanted Spain as favorites to win the big prize in Brazil next year just yet. But if they continue this powerful run while others struggle, it's hard to say they won't do so. It might happen sooner than later.
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