Asia’s hopefuls experienced mixed fortunes over the past two matchdays as the continent’s race to Qatar 2022 picked up pace. Group B’s Saudi Arabia emerged the only team to stay perfect in the third round, recording another pair of victories at home to move three points clear of Australia who saw their record 11-match winning streak brought to a halt by Japan.
There were no changes at the top of Group A, however, with IR Iran maintaining their two-point cushion despite playing out a 1-1 draw against Korea Republic at home. Lebanon, meanwhile, moved into third after bravely winning against Syria.
Japan and Oman, too, registered a second win each to put their respective campaigns back on track. Elsewhere, China PR edged out Vietnam 3-2 to keep their hopes alive, while United Arab Emirates and Iraq are still search for their first victory.
Japan 2-1 Australia, Saitama Stadium
Goals: Ao Tanaka 8; Ajdin Hrustic 70, Aziz Behich (o.g.) 85
Japan welcomed Australia in what was their seventh World Cup qualifying encounter, having each claimed a win and four draws in the past six meetings. The visitors entered the fray aiming to consolidate their lead, while the under pressure hosts were desperate to put their 1-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia behind them.
Hajime Moriyasu’s Samurai Blue pressed hard from the outset and took the lead inside eight minutes, Ao Tanaka slotting into the far side of goal. Graham Arnold’s Socceroos came to life after the restart and drew level through Ajdin Hrustic with 20 minutes left. With so much at stake, however, an action-packed finale saw Japan come out on top with Aziz Behich conceding an own goal with five minutes remaining.
Bicycle kick leveller
Issam Al Sabhi proved his heroics against Japan were not a flash in the pan, drawing his side level through a wonderful bicycle kick as Oman came from a goal down to win 3-1 against Vietnam at home. The 24-year-old striker, who struck the match-winner in their surprise triumph against the Japanese in the opener, smartly pounced on a loose ball to send the home crowd into raptures.
Mohamed Kdouh scored a quick-fire double in the space of three minutes just before half-time as Lebanon came from behind to defeat Syria 3-2. The 24-year-old Iraq-based striker produced a flash of magic by cancelling out Omar Kharbin’s opener against the run of play, before putting his side ahead by netting from Hassan Maatouk’s low cross to set his side on the road to their first victory.
China’s Wu Lei had a hand in three goals as his side edged Vietnam 3-2 to keep their hopes alive. The Espanyol striker was involved in their first goal before being on target to double the advantage. After Vietnam scored twice in quick succession to draw level, Wu got himself ahead of a Vietnamese defender to direct Wang Chenchao’s pass into the back of the net deep into the stoppage-time.
Twenty-one-year-old Firas Al Buraikan has quickly forged a reputation as a super-sub in this campaign, entering the fray to score in each of the past two games as Saudi Arabia continued their winning ways. The Al Fateh striker scored the only goal against Japan on Thursday and, when China pulled one back to halve the deficit five days later, he tapped home Saudi Arabia’s third to restore their two-goal lead just three minutes after coming on.
Despite missing their second fixture due to physical problem, Korea Republic captain Son Heungmin made a powerful return by scoring in each game to help yield his side four points. Indeed, the Tottenham Hotspur rediscovered his usual form, grabbing a late match-winner in their 2-1 defeat of Syria before opening the scoring in their 1-1 draw in Tehran.
Matchday 3 & 4 results
Korea Republic 2-1 Syria
Iraq 0-0 Lebanon
United Arab Emirates 0-1 Iran
Saudi Arabia 1-0 Japan
China 3-2 Vietnam
Oman 1-3 Australia
Iran 1-1 Korea Republic
United Arab Emirates 2-2 Iraq
Syria 2-3 Lebanon
Japan 2-1 Australia
Saudi Arabia 3-2 China
Oman 3-1 Vietnam
What they said
“We kept fighting until the end and never gave up. We showed our determination to get to the World Cup. It was a great win for us but there are still a lot of difficult games to come. We have to make sure we build on this win.” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu
Did you know?
Australia are now winless against Japan for 12 years with their last victory coming on the road to South Africa 2010 when they won 2-1 at home on the back of a Tim Cahill brace.