Normal service continued in Asia as the continent's traditional giants, Korea Republic, Japan and Saudi Arabia, picked up consecutive wins on Wednesday in the second stage of qualifying for the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 . However, 2004 Olympic semi-finalists Iraq, the top seeds of Asia's 24 contenders, could only manage a 2-2 draw away to Korea DPR that leaves them separated from their eastern Asian rivals at the top of the section only by goal difference.
Both sides entered this game with three points from the opening round a fortnight ago and it was Iraq who were widely tipped to claim maximum points. It certainly started well enough for them in the cauldron of the intimidating Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang, with in-form striker Alaa Abdul Zahra, who had also been on target in the 3-0 win over India , striking to give the Iraqis a 17th-minute lead.
However, cheered on by the vociferous supporters, the home team hit back emphatically to restore parity on the stroke of the half time and then take the lead 19 minutes after the re-start. The under-siege visitors then had to weather a storm of Korean attacks before they recovered their nerve to seal a draw in injury time thanks to a well-taken penalty from the ice-cool Ali Hussein.
Iraq's next game comes in two weeks' time against Thailand, who emerged 1-0 winners over basement boys India in the group's other game of the night
Aussies left to rue missed chances
Also left frustrated in the second round were Australia, surprisingly held to a 1-1 draw by Jordan at the Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide.
The hosts dominated from the start and their attacking efforts looked to have finally paid off when Kristian Sarkies opened the scoring on 58 minutes. However, having squandered a handful of gilt-edged chances, they were punished for their profligacy as Jordan's Ahmad Alzughier unleashed a blistering 35-yard shot into the top corner five minutes from time.
That result, coupled with the goalless draw they recorded against Iran two weeks ago, leaves the Aussies chasing a much-needed win when they entertain top-placed Saudi Arabia in the same stadium on 28 March.
Al Enazi on song
While Iraq and Australia might have hoped for better, the continent's other big boys continued their winning form. Korea Republic, unconvincing in a 1-0 home victory against Yemen in the previous match, looked back to their normal selves as they cruised to a 3-1 win away to Unites Arab Emirates.
Japan also returned home from Kuala Lumpur with a 2-1 win over Malaysia while Saudi Arabia snatched a narrow victory in a nail-biting home match against Iran, with Al Qadsiya striker Yousif Al Salem scoring the only goal seven minutes from time.
In a western Asia affair, Kuwait's young striker Hamad Al Enazi netted three times to steer the home side to a neat 3-0 victory over Bahrain. Al Enazi found the net after only ten minutes and he doubled the lead with 11 minutes remaining before completing his hat-trick in stoppage time goal to send the hosts' fans home delighted.
Elsewhere, Vietnam stole the show in Group C as they overcame hosts Indonesia 1-0 courtesy of a 76th-minute goal from captain Le Cong Vinh. The result leaves Vietnam topping the groups with six points from two matches, three ahead of the much-fancied Oman, who surprisingly went down 1-0 to Lebanon in the other game.
With the second stage of Olympic qualifying now at the midway point, the third round on 28 March will be even more intriguing, with some of continent's giants all set to square up.
Group F's two front-runners, Korea Republic and Uzbekistan, will face off in Seoul, for example, while Saudi Arabia will look to keep their perfect record intact when they travel to face Australia in Group D.
Bahrain, meanwhile, despite their 3-0 defeat against Kuwait, can still keep alive their hopes of claiming one of Group A's two qualifying spots, but only if they claim all three points against Yemen.
Second qualifying round, Matchday 2 results:
Wednesday 14 March
Group A: Kuwait 3-0 Bahrain, Pakistan 0-2 Qatar
Group B: Malaysia 1-2 Japan, Hong Kong 0-2 Syria
Group C: Indonesia 0-1 Vietnam, Lebanon 1-0 Oman
Group D: Saudi Arabia 1-0 Iran, Australia 1-1 Jordan
Group E: DPR Korea 2-2 Iraq, India 0-1 Thailand
Group F: UAE 1-3 Korea Republic, Yemen 0-1 Uzbekistan