Ten teams got off to a winning start as the AFC's top 24 nations met on Wednesday in the opening game of the second qualifying round for the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 . The teams, divided into six groups, will continue to battle it out against each other in the remaining five matches until 6 June, with only the top two from each group advancing to the next final qualifying round, which run from 22 August until 21 November.
Iraq, with the memory of their fairy tale run to the last four at Athens 2004 still fresh, made short work of brushing aside Group E rivals India 3-0. Coach Yahya Alwan's charges went into the game lacking in preparation and without home advantage, as the game was scheduled for the neutral venue of King Abdullah Stadium in Amman. However, although India repelled their attacking advances in a tight first half, the tide turned six minutes into the second period when Mustafa Karim opened the scoring. Alaa Abdul Zahra then doubled the lead on 68 minutes and, within two minutes, the points had been secured by Haider Abudi's decisive strike.
The result left Iraq sitting pretty at the summit of Group E, although they will know only too well that they face a considerably sterner test in a fortnight's time when they travel to Pyongyang to face Korea DPR, 1-0 winners over Thailand in the group's other game of the day.
Socceroos draw a blank
Australia , meanwhile, have found themselves in the most difficult preliminary section of all.
Graham Arnold's side, who secured their progress by firing 12 unanswered goals past Chinese Taipei in the two-legged first qualifying round, began their group campaign in less spectacular style, being held to a goalless draw in Iran. Saudi Arabia are currently leading the group following a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Jordan but they will face tough opposition from old nemesis Iran in their next fixture.
Group F favourites Korea Republic also endured a tough opening fixture, and it was only a late strike from Yang Dong-Hyen that sunk Yemem and saved the Koreans' blushes in front of their own fans. Next up for Pim Verbeek's side is a 14 March showdown with United Arab Emirates, which will be crucial for both sides.
Bahrain emerged the biggest winners by hammering Group A underdogs Pakistan 8-0, but despite this emphatic win, nothing can be taken for granted given the strength of the group's other contenders, Qatar and Kuwait, who shared four goals in the day's other match.
Elsewhere, Vietnam suggested that they could yet prove dark horses in the second qualifying round as they stunned Lebanon 2-0, with 20-year-old Huynh Phuc Hiep scoring in the dying minutes to secure a crucial win. Vietnam will now travel to Indonesia knowing that a win will leave them well placed to qualify from Group C.
Syria, who recorded a comfortable 3-1 victory against Malaysia, will be another team to watch in Group B. While Japan are undoubtedly favourites to top the section, especially after a resounding 3-0 win over Hong Kong, the Western Asian side have shown that will be strong contenders for the second qualifying slot.
Second qualifying round, matchday one:
Wednesday 28 February
Group A: Bahrain 8-0 Pakistan, Qatar 2-2 Kuwait
Group B: Japan 3-0 Hong Kong, Syria 3-1 Malaysia
Group C: Oman 3-0 Indonesia, Vietnam 2-0 Lebanon
Group D: Iran 0-0 Australia, Jordan 0-1 Saudi Arabia
Group E: Iraq 3-0 India, Thailand 0-1 Korea DPR
Group F: Korea Republic 1-0 Yemen, Uzbekistan 2-1 UAE