Germany defeats Northern Ireland, secures spot at Russia 2018

Sebastian Rudy scored his first international goal to help Joachim Low's side make it nine wins from nine in qualifying.

Germany celebrates one of its three goals on Thursday.   -  Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Reigning champion Germany booked its place at next year's World Cup with a 3-1 victory over Northern Ireland on Thursday. Needing just a point in Belfast to top Group C, Joachim Low's side overcame a number of key absences, as well as a spirited home side, to make it nine wins from nine in qualifying.

Despite being without World Cup winners Mario Gotze, Sami Khedira, Manuel Nuer and Mesut Ozil -  as well as Timo Werner - Germany demonstrated its depth as two first-half goals saw off its nearest rival.

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Sebastian Rudy let fly with a right-footed rocket inside two minutes to score his maiden international goal, his wonder strike briefly silencing a boisterous crowd inside Windsor Park.

Any hopes of the host marking Michael O'Neill's 50th match in charge with an upset disappeared when Sandro Wagner - starting up top in place of the injured Werner - spun away from his marker to curl in a second in the 21st minute.

Victory sealed

Conor Washington clipped the cross bar before Joshua Kimmich completed an impressive performance by Germany, volleying in from a tight angle in the closing minutes before Josh Magennis netted a consolation for Northern Ireland with the last kick of the game.

Northern Ireland had not conceded in qualifying since a 2-0 defeat against the same opponent in Hannover last October, winning five on the trot to make sure of a top-two finish. However, its slim hopes of catching the group leader suffered a blow inside two minutes with Rudy's long-range stunner.

The Bayern Munich midfielder spectacularly broke his duck for Germany by thrashing a first-time shot beyond Michael McGovern, the ball curling away from the goalkeeper to find the net via a deflection off the upright. Germany's second was almost as impressive, Wagner cleverly turning the defender tight to his back to create the chance to curl home a left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area.

The goal was a reward for Wagner's persistence, the Hoffenheim forward having twice gone close previously with headers, the first spectacularly saved by McGovern before the woodwork kept out a calculated flick from Joshua Kimmich's teasing cross soon after.

Raucous support

Despite barely getting a kick for long periods in the first half, Northern Ireland went close to halving the deficit when Corry Evans' goal-bound poke was blocked by Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The opportunity failed to be a catalyst for a second-half fightback. Despite raucous support from its supporters, the host struggled to cope against a ruthlessly efficient German side.

McGovern produced an outstanding save to turn a Thomas Muller header beyond the post, while Mats Hummels sent a header from the resulting corner straight at the goalkeeper. Washington saw a rising left-footed drive clip the woodwork and go over before Kimmich put the game beyond doubt with Germany's third, the full-back inadvertently teed up at the back post by Jonny Evans' clearing header.

Northern Ireland at least had the last word through Magennis, who reacted quickly after Gareth McAuley had nodded a deep corner back into the danger zone.

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