FRANKFURT: On a busy night across Europe, a player making his debut for Germany notched a hat trick in a 8-0 rout of tiny San Marino as the three biggest teams in action all won their qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
England beat Scotland 3-0 on three headers and Paul Pogba, the world's most expensive player, scored an important goal in France's 2-1 win over Sweden as the winners led their groups.
But the night belonged to Serge Gnabry, a talented forward schooled in Arsenal and now playing for Werder Bremen who became the first player to score a hat-trick in his debut for Germany since Dieter Mueller in 1976.
"I am enjoying a good run," Gnabry said.
The win over San Marino was a record 95th victory for German coach Joachim Loew, who now has one more than Sepp Herberger. San Marino did not manage a shot at goal on a rain-soaked pitch and remained winless in 126 internationals. But it did better than 10 years ago when it lost 13-0 to Germany in the early days of Loew's career as Germany coach. His two biggest wins to date are against San Marino.
"We should not overestimate this match," Loew said. "San Marino is not a measuring stick but the team sought to score goals. We want to get through the qualification without mercy and dominate the group, and we've done it so far."
Germany has four wins in four matches and is five points ahead of Northern Ireland in Group C. Only group winners qualify directly. Germany has a 16-0 goal difference.
Like Germany, England has not conceded and tops Group F after beating Scotland on headers from Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill.
There was trouble in Bucharest, where Poland beat host Romania 3-0 after the Group E match was interrupted by flares thrown into the match. Poland striker Robert Lewandowski needed medical attention but then scored.
Here's a look at group action:
In the only group match Friday, Paul Pogba headed in the equalizer in France's 2-1 win against Sweden. The Manchester United midfielder headed in off the crossbar in the 58th minute, shortly after Emil Forsberg had punished a sloppy period of French play with a deflected free kick that wrong-footed goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
France winger Dimitri Payet, who set up Pogba's goal with one of his pinpoint free kicks from the left, slotted home the winner in the 65th after a handling error from goalkeeper Robin Olsen when under pressure from forward Antoine Griezmann.
Both Payet and Pogba netted the eighth international goal of their careers, but Pogba's goal came just as Sweden threatened a victory that would have thrown Group A wide open. Instead, France leads with 10 points, three more than second-placed Sweden and six more than the Netherlands. The Dutch play in Luxembourg on Sunday.
Serge Gnabry scored a hat trick in his debut for Germany as the World Cup champion overwhelmed San Marino 8-0 on Friday in a qualifier for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Defender Jonas Hector added two goals as Joachim Loew won a record 95th match as Germany coach.
Gnabry was the top scorer at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics with six goals and was easily the most dynamic Germany player, scoring twice with eye-catching volleys.
"He's been playing well for Werder Bremen," Loew said.
Hector admitted it was difficult to play on the rain-soaked pitch in San Marino.
"It was good that we scored a couple of goals early," he said
Northern Ireland breezed past Azerbaijan 4-0 to jump into second place, five points behind the Germans. The Czech Republic notched its first win by beating Norway 2-1. Azerbaijan also has seven points, the Czechs five and Norway three.
Poland's star striker Robert Lewandowski needed medical attention in the second half as he collapsed after a flare thrown in the 55th minute. The referee temporarily stopped the match and Lewandowski returned to the game several minutes later — and scored twice in Poland's 3-0 win against Romania.
Lewandowski netted in the 82nd minute to double the Polish lead from inside the box and added his second in stoppage time from the spot. It was the ninth consecutive qualifier in which he had scored.
Poland jumped to the sole lead of the group with 10 points, three more than Montenegro, which lost at Armenia 3-2 after wasting a 2-0 lead.
Denmark has six points after beating Kazakhstan 4-1, while Romania is another point behind. Armenia has three points, one more than Kazakhstan at the bottom.
England's 3-0 result against Scotland appeared far more convincing than its actual performance in the 113th meeting of international football's oldest rivals.
But the cross-border rivals were united in the buildup to the game by a two-week public spat with FIFA over their desire to mark Armistice Day by wearing poppies which commemorate British Commonwealth forces who have died on duty since World War I.
England and Scotland are set to be fined by FIFA for breaching rules banning political, religious, personal or commercial messages on official uniforms and equipment.
England has 10 points. Slovenia is second on eight points after winning 1-0 at bottom-placed Malta, and Slovakia is third after beating Lithuania 4-0.