Adam Lallana ensured Sam Allardyce’s reign as England manager got off to a dramatic winning start with a strike deep into injury time against Slovakia.
Allardyce had looked as though he would have to settle for a deeply uninspiring stalemate in Trnava – the hosts having held firm in the World Cup Group F qualifier despite Martin Skrtel’s sending-off after a nasty stamp on Harry Kane.
However Lallana picked a perfect moment to break his international duck and seal a 1-0 success. The Liverpool forward had already clattered a post when the ball broke for him inside the area, with seconds of the four added minutes left.
He showed neat footwork and got his shot away, then turned away in celebration as keeper Matus Kozacik let the ball squirm between his legs and over the line.
SCOTLAND CRUISE ON SNODGRASS HAT-TRICK
Also in Group F alongside England, Scotland made a winning start as a hat-trick from Hull’s Robert Snodgrass helped secure a 5-1 victory in Malta.
Snodgrass’ over-hit cross flew into the far top corner to give Gordon Strachan’s side a ninth-minute lead but Alfred Effiong quickly headed an equaliser.
Chris Martin restored Scotland’s lead just after half-time before a harsh red card for home defender Jonathan Caruana. Snodgrass scored from the resulting penalty and a Steven Fletcher header extended the lead.
Snodgrass tapped in for his hat-trick after a Fletcher shot had struck the crossbar, and Malta finished with nine men after Luke Gambin was sent off for a hack at Snodgrass.
MULLER BAGS BRACE IN GERMAN WIN
In Group C, world champions Germany began with a 3-0 win in Norway as Joshua Kimmich scored in between two goals from Thomas Muller.
Muller struck in the 16th minute at the Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo before Kimmich netted Germany’s second goal on the stroke of half-time.
Muller then scored again on the hour to ensure a winning start for Joachim Loew’s team in Group C as the world champions set off on the road to the finals in Russia.
CZECH HELD BY NORTHERN IRELAND
Northern Ireland took a point from their opening World Cup qualifier as Filip Novak’s stunning miss let Michael O’Neill’s side take a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic.
Two years on from a victory in Hungary which kickstarted their run to the Euro 2016 finals, the feel-good buzz accrued from featuring in France this summer evaporated somewhat with a stalemate against the equally underwhelming Czechs.
Boss O’Neill may be satisfied with a share of the spoils, a return they only got due to Novak’s mystifying second-half close-range blunder, but the manner of the performance suggested there is plenty to do if they are to reach Russia in 2018.
ERIKSEN STRIKE SEALS WIN FOR DENMARK
Denmark were the only team to make a winning start in Group E thanks to Christian Eriksen’s first-half strike against Armenia in Copenhagen, as Kazakhstan and Poland drew 2-2 and Romania and Montenegro shared the points in a 1-1 draw.
POLAND PEGGED BACK IN 2-2 DRAW
Bartosz Kapustka’s strike and a Robert Lewandowski penalty had Poland in control but a quick-fire double from Sergei Khizhnichenko early in the second half earned an impressive 2-2 draw for the hosts.