COLOGNE, Germany (Reuters) - Triple former champions Germany secured a place at next year's World Cup in Brazil with a game to spare by sweeping Ireland aside 3-0 in Group C qualifying on Friday.
Sami Khedira's deflected shot gave the hosts a 12th-minute lead and Andre Schuerrle made it 2-0 in the second half following a fine turn.
Mesut Ozil then made sure of victory with the third goal in stoppage time as he played in an unfamiliar forward role against an Ireland side who were already effectively out of contention for a place at next year's finals before kickoff.
Despite having more than half a dozen injury absentees, Germany were always in control with midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger back after a six-month break to earn his 99th cap.
Germany have 25 points from nine games and an unassailable lead at the top of the group before they face second-placed Sweden in Stockholm on Tuesday.
"I think overall we played a very good qualification (campaign)," Germany coach Joachim Loew told reporters. "We won eight of nine matches so far so we can be satisfied.
"Something still needs to happen though. The defence needs to become more stable. We kept a clean sheet tonight and that's good but it starts up front.
"Everyone has to defend and we also have to improve our game in the last third of the pitch, that last pass."
"But the team did it well today," said Loew, who was scolded after the game by injured Ireland player Robbie Keane for not shaking hands with his counterparts immediately after the game.
"He told me that I should have done it straight after the game but I wanted first to congratulate my players," Loew said.
Arsenal midfielder Ozil was played up front due to injuries to Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose as the hosts fielded six Bayern Munich players in their lineup.
Ireland, with interim coach Noel King in charge after the departure of Italian Giovanni Trapattoni last month, went close through Kevin Doyle in the opening minutes before Germany stepped up a gear.
Khedira struck when his shot from the edge of the box went in off Ireland defender Ciaran Clark.
Keeper David Forde denied Germany a second goal in the 35th minute, spectacularly fisting a thunderous Schuerrle header away.
"We knew it would be that kind of game, with the Irish playing with long balls and lots of bodies at the back," Schuerrle told reporters, as Brazilian samba music blared from the stadium speakers.
At the other end, Clark almost made amends for his earlier mistake when his header hit the bar on the stroke of halftime.
Germany made it 2-0 in the 58th minute when Schuerrle controlled a fine Toni Kroos chip in the box before blasting the ball beyond Forde.
"We had to be patient, keep looking for spaces and the holes and we scored three times," Schuerrle added.
"That was very well done."
The Irish forced keeper Manuel Neuer to make a double save in the 73rd minute and Jerome Boateng responded for Germany with an unstoppable shot that rattled Forde's crossbar.
Ozil completed the win with a cool chip from a tight angle in stoppage time.
"We have now won 18 of our last 19 qualifiers (for the 2012 European Championships and 2014 World Cup)," German football federation boss Wolfgang Niersbach told reporters.
"It has been a superb performance and now we are alone with Brazil to have qualified for every World Cup since 1954."
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Tony Jimenez and Josh Reich)