England launched their World Cup qualifying campaign with a five-star performance in Moldova to record their biggest away win since 1993.
Frank Lampard scored twice to provide the perfect answer to a few rumblings of discontent about his age, with Jermain Defoe, James Milner and a deflected Leighton Baines free-kick underlining England's overwhelming superiority.
Northern Ireland's campaign got off to a losing start as goals from Viktor Fayzulin and Roman Shirokov gave Fabio Capello's Russia a 2-0 win in Moscow.
The visitors were set up to steal a point and, for half an hour, it looked as though they might - only for Fayzulin to break the deadlock with a smart finish from eight yards.
Russia's second came from a hotly-disputed penalty, Shirokov coolly converting after left-back Craig Cathcart had been harshly treated by the referee.
Italy were held to a 2-2 draw by Bulgaria in their Group B opener in Sofia.
Stanislav Manolev struck a magnificent opener to put the Bulgarians in front after half an hour, but a lightning double from Pablo Osvaldo just before the break looked to have swung the game the Italians' way but, in the 66th minute, Iliyan Mitanski delivered a cross into the box and Georgi Milanov pounced.
Abou Diaby scored the only goal as France edged past Finland 1-0 in their opening 2014 qualifier.
The Arsenal midfielder made the breakthrough in the 20th minute of a Group I game in which chances and shots on target were few and far between.
In the same group, Georgia got their campaign off to a winning start as a fine second-half goal from Tornike Okriashvili saw off the challenge of Belarus in a game that ended 1-0.
Okriashvili's clinical finish from inside the area six minutes after half-time sealed the points for Georgia in Tbilisi.
It was not the rout that many expected, but Germany started their road to Brazil with a routine 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands.
Joachim Low's men have been known to run up big scores against minnows such as Lars Olsen's side in recent years, but that was not the case on Friday.
It could have been, had goalkeeper Gunnar Neilsen not produced a stunning display, but in the end Germany had to settle for three goals - Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil's brace did the job.
Last-gaps goals from Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle saved Republic of Ireland's blushes as they came from behind to edge to a dramatic 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan.
Giovanni Trapattoni's men looked set for an embarrassing defeat when Kairat Nurdauletov glanced home after an insipid first half performance from the visitors.
Kazakhstan, ranked 116 places below the Republic, controlled almost all the second half until Keane scored from the penalty spot after 87 minutes and Doyle blasted home in the dying seconds to hand the beleaguered Trapattoni a much-needed three points.
Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic scored a hat-trick apiece as Bosnia-Herzegovina thrashed Liechtenstein 8-1.
Bosnia-Herzegovina midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic scored twice in five minutes before Ibisevic netted two goals as the visitors took a comfortable four goal lead at half-time.
Their domination continued after the break when Manchester City forward Dzeko fired a hat-trick before strike partner Ibisevic sealed his own three-goal haul from the six-yard box with seven minutes left on the clock.
Substitute striker Mathias Christen at least ensured Liechtenstein got on the scoresheet in the 61st minute, scoring at the second attempt after Bosnia-Herzegovina and Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic failed to block his initial shot.
Also in Group G, Lithuania and Slovakia came away with a point apiece in Vilnius after both were reduced to 10 men as the match finished 2-2.
Greece came from behind to secure all three points in a 2-1 win over Latvia.
The visitors fell behind when Aleksandrs Cauna converted a 43rd-minute penalty, but bounced back after the break with strikes from Nikos Spyropoulos (57) and Theofanis Gekas (70).
Honours were even in Podgorica as Montenegro and Poland played out a bad-tempered 2-2 draw.
Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland had to come from behind to earn a credible point after squandering the early lead given to them by Jakub Blaszczykowski`s penalty.
Nikola Drincic and Mirko Vucinic were responsible for the turnaround, but after half-time substitute Adrian Mierzejewski levelled, ill-discipline took over.
Serbia's Savo Pavicevic and Poland's Ludovic Obraniak were red carded for nasty incidents inside a three-minute spell, and in the end, both sides were happy when the whistle came.
Cristiano Ronaldo put in a thrilling goal-scoring performance in Portugal's 2-1 win over Luxembourg.
The midfielder drew his side level just before the half-hour mark after Daniel Da Mota Alves had given Luxembourg the lead, before he made a nuisance of himself to enable Helder Postiga's strike to earn the visitors a well-deserved win.
Azerbaijan and Israel shared the spoils in Baku as the match ended 1-1.
Visitors Israel took a 50th-minute lead through Bebras Natcho in the Group F encounter, but Azerbaijan were level within 15 minutes thanks to Ruslan Abusov.
In Group A, ten-man Wales kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign with a defeat as goals from Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen gave Belgium a 2-0 victory in Cardiff.
Nikica Jelavic's opportunist 68th-minute header got Igor Stimac's reign as Croatia coach off to a winning start against Macedonia.
Jelavic headed into the bottom corner from close range after connecting with an Ivan Perisic cross to seal the points for the hosts, who were made to battle by a dogged Macedonian line-up.
Robin Van Persie's 30th international goal set Netherlands on their way to a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Turkey.
The Manchester United striker opened the scoring in the 16th minute and Luciano Narsingh added a second in stoppage time as the Dutch registered a morale-boosting victory following their poor Euro 2012 showing.
An evening that began badly for Andorra got little better as Hungary fired five past them at the Estadio Comunal de Aixovall.
Elsewhere in Group D, second-half goals by Gabriel Torje and Ciprian Marica lifted Romania to a solid 2-0 victory over Estonia in their World Cup qualifier in Tallinn.
Torje opened the scoring 10 minutes into the second period and Marica made it two in the 75th minute as Victor Piturca's men made a perfect.
Substitute Artur Sarkisov's 70th-minute strike ensured Armenia began in a positive manner with a 1-0 victory over Malta.
Sarkisov had only been on the pitch for six minutes before his close-range strike gave the visitors all three points in this Group B encounter at the Ta' Qali National Stadium.
In Group E, Albania needed two late goals to secure a 3-1 victory over Cyprus in Tirana. A goal in either half earned 10-man Switzerland a winning start as they eased past Slovenia 2-0 in Ljubljana. Iceland opened their campaign with a well-deserved 2-0 victory over a below-par Norway side in Reykjavik. Goals in either half from Kari Arnason and Alfred Finnbogason were just reward for a good performance against strong opposition.