Michael Ballack led the charge as Germany opened up a four-point lead over Group 4 rivals Russia with a convincing 4-0 win against Liechtenstein.

The Chelsea star was winning his 91st cap and guided his country to a comfortable victory that leaves them top of the group with 13 points, ahead of second-placed Russia, who have nine points and face Liechtenstein in Vaduz on Wednesday. Germany were without several first-choice stars including striker Miroslav Klose - the top scorer at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ - and injury victim defender Arne Friedrich, but the comfortable win was badly needed.

"I am pleased with the victory, but now much harder tasks lie ahead for us," said Ballack, whose side face Russia next October in Moscow in the game which is likely to decide the group.

Home defeats to Norway in February and England last November had dented the team's confidence and tiny Liechtenstein, ranked 151st in the world and rooted to the bottom of the group, were never going to test their hosts. The principality is just 160 square kilometres and the national team, which includes part-timers, were humbled 6-0 when the sides met in Vaduz last September.  

"We have fulfilled our duty," said Germany coach Joachim Low. "We had expected Liechtenstein would defend with nine or ten men. Obviously, we would have liked to have scored a few more goals, but I am quite content."

I am pleased with the victory, but now much harder tasks lie ahead for us,

Michael Ballack.

With October's trip to Moscow in mind, Ballack had called for his team to to exert themselves against the minnows and it was the Chelsea midfielder who opened the scoring after just four minutes. Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger floated in a cross and Ballack drilled his shot past Liechtenstein goalkeeper Peter Jehle.

The Germans made it 2-0 five minutes later when Lukas Podolski's shot was saved by Jehle, but midfielder Marcell Jansen won the race to the ball and fired home. It remained 2-0 at half-time, but Germany stepped up the pace after the break as both Podolski and Schweinsteiger struck in less than two minutes

Podolski drilled his shot at Jehle who parried and when the ball bobbled loose, Schweinsteiger had the simplest of tap-ins on 48 minutes. With Klose out with an ankle injury, Stuttgart's Mario Gomez partnered Podolski up front and when Gomez's shot was saved, Podolski fired home from nine metres out to make it 4-0 after 50 minutes.

By this stage, Liechtenstein attacks were few and far between and the German defence had precious few problems. Germany have now won all four meetings between the countries, scoring 27 goals compared to their opponents' three.

The Germans travel to Cardiff on Wednesday to face Wales in their next qualifier while Liechtenstein host Russia in Vaduz the same night.