Germany beat Azerbaijan 2-0 to move four points ahead in its World Cup qualifying group on Wednesday, while France laboured to a 1-0 victory over the Faeroe Islands.

Goals by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose in Baku gave the Germans three points and they now have 19 from seven games, with second-place Russia on 15 from six. The Russians should cut the lead to one by beating Liechtenstein at home on September 5.

“The task was to win, and we managed that,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “But Germany did not play at the highest level.”

Andre-Pierre Gignac scored France’s lone goal after 42 minutes against last-place Faeroe Islands in Group 7 in Torshavn. Despite the three points, Raymond Domenech’s team is still five points behind Serbia with a game in hand.

“It’s always the same problem, you have to score. We created enough chances,” Domenech said. “I said before the match that only the three points matter, so I’m not going to start moaning now.”

Two goals by Ivica Olic helped Croatia win 3-1 away to Belarus to strengthen its hold on second place behind England in Group 6. The Croats are still seven points behind the leader, however, and a loss at Wembley on September 9 will mean that England will qualify as group winner and Croatia will be chasing a playoff spot.

Morten Gamst Pedersen scored twice as Norway outplayed 10-man Scotland in a 4-0 victory that improved its chances of capturing a playoff spot behind Group 9 winner Netherlands, which has already qualified.

After Scotland defender Gary Caldwell had been sent off in the 34th minute for a second yellow card, John Arne Riise put Norway ahead and Pedersen scored either side of a goal from Erik Huseklepp.

Victory lifted the Norwegians away from last place above Iceland in what has turned into a wide open race for second. The Netherlands has 21 points, Scotland and Macedonia seven, Norway six and Iceland four.

Robert Koren scored twice as Slovenia beat San Marino 5-0 to climb two places to third in a wide open Group 3 and improve its qualifying chances, only four points behind leader Slovakia.

In Caribbean, Central and North American qualifying, Mexico, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago picked up key victories, tightening the CONCACAF race.

After six of 10 matches, Costa Rica leads with 12 points followed by the United States and Honduras on 10, Mexico with nine, and El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago on five. The top three teams advance automatically to the World Cup, while the fourth place team faces a playoff with South America’s No. 5 for another berth.

Mexico defeated the United States 2-1 in front of 105,000 people at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, with substitute Miguel Sabah scoring the winner in the 82nd minute.

Mexico coach Javier Aguirre showed his relief at extending Mexico’s unbeaten streak against the Americans at home.

“Today is a day to celebrate, drink a few tequilas, and then get back to work,” Aguirre said. “Everybody will go to bed tonight a bit more relaxed.”

The Americans nearly silenced the piercing drone of horns, drums and high-pitched screams at Estadio Azteca via Charlie Davies’ goal in the 9th minute.

But the U.S. advantage lasted only 10 minutes. Cuauhtemoc Blanco found Israel Castro, who equalised on a shot off the underside of the crossbar.

In Trinidad, Cornell Glen’s goal in the 7th minute earned Trinidad and Tobago a 1-0 win over El Salvador. It was Trinidad’s first win in six qualifiers.

Honduras won 4-0 against Costa Rica with Carlo Costly scoring twice.

In friendlies played across Europe, European champion Spain hit back from two goals down to beat Macedonia 3-2, England rallied from 2-0 behind to draw 2-2 with the Netherlands in Amsterdam, Argentina beat Russia 3-2 in Moscow, Brazil captured a 1-0 victory over Estonia and Australia beat Ireland 3-0 at Limerick.

Portugal outplayed Liechtenstein 3-0 despite the absence of flu victim Cristiano Ronaldo but World Cup holder Italy was held 0-0 by Switzerland in Basel, its third game in a row without scoring. Fabio Cannavaro made his 127th international appearance to beat Paolo Maldini’s record for Italy.

Macedonia threatened a major shock in Skopje when Goran Pandev netted twice against Spain. But three goals in four minutes by Fernando Torres, Gerard Pique and Albert Riera turned the game around.

After defensive blunders had handed first-half goals to Dirk Kuyt and Rafael van der Vaart, Jermaine Defoe came off the bench to score twice for England.

Argentina took some pressure off coach Diego Maradona by beating Russia 3-2 in Moscow, despite the absence of injured star Lionel Messi.

The Barcelona forward withdrew from the game with a pulled muscle and Maradona’s team, which has slipped to fourth in World Cup qualifying, fell behind to Igor Semshov’s 17{+t}{+h}-minute strike at the Lokomotiv Stadium.

Sergio Aguero equalised in the final minute of the first-half and goals by Lisandro Lopez and Jesus Datolo put Argentina in control before Roman Pavlyuchenko replied with a deflected free kick.

Maradona said there was no need to risk Messi’s fitness in a friendly.

“We will not risk Messi for a single minute,” Maradona said, looking ahead to Argentina’s crunch match on Sept. 5 at home to South American group leader Brazil. “Even if a single player is injured, it will make Brazil’s life easier.”

Luis Fabiano scored the winner just before halftime as a strong Brazil line-up won 1-0 against Estonia in Tallinn.

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