Fans across East Asia were treated to an enthralling night of
football as their three teams emerged victorious on Wednesday
Korea Republic and Japan became the only two of the 24 teams that maintained 100 per cent records in the second stage of qualifying for Beijing 2008 with three consecutive victories, while another Eastern Asian side, Korea DPR, leapfrogged 2004 Olympic semi-finalists Iraq to top their group after defeating hosts India 2-0.
Having been held a 2-2 draw in the previous match by Korea DPR, the Iraqis looked a shadow of their normal selves against Thailand and were held to a 1-1 draw. The top seeds are trailing behind leaders Korea DPR by two points and they lead third placed Thailand by a solitary point.
With only the top two teams advancing to the final stage, Iraq's fixture against Thailand on 18 April will be decisive for both teams if they are to qualify for the last 12.
A tale of two goals
Han Dong-won was hailed as the Korea Republic's hero as he scored twice in his side's 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan . The Seongnam Chunma striker bagged a brace in their last 3-1 victory against the United Arab Emirates on 14 March and he was again on target this time around when he put the home side in front after 33 minutes. The prolific 20-year-old went on to score his fourth goal in two games six minutes from time to make the game safe.
Japan's tall forward Sota Hirayama registered two excellent strikes to help his side beat Syria 3-0 . Akihiro Ienaga opened the scoring for Japan in the 14th minute and Hirayama popped up to head home a Koki Mizuno free kick eight minutes later. The FC Tokyo striker sent the home supporters into raptures by sealing the victory in the 71st minute.
Joining the two-goal heroes On Wednesday night was Korea DPR striker Pak Nam-chol, scored twice in the second half in India. After a tight first half which was largely dominated by the home side, Korea DPR took the lead eight minutes into the second half as Pak broke from the left before unleashing a blistering left-footed strike into the net. The same player doubled his side's advantage with 14 minutes to go when he latched onto to Kim Kwang-hyok's cross.
With the East Asian teams enjoying a good night, the competition in other three groups was closer, as few teams from their respective groups could count on being the overwhelming favorites.
Saudi Arabia's winning streak was brought to an end following their e 2-0 defeat at the hands of Australia, who climbed to the second place with five points. Iran and Jordan, who shared the spoils after a goalless draw, also harbour hopes of qualifying from this group if they do well in their remaining three games.
Kuwait are one point clear of second placed Bahrain after their 3-0 away win over Pakistan and they are looking to cement their position in the next match, which is against the South Asians. However, the Bahrain showed they are capable of spoiling Kuwait's party by overcoming Qatar in a nail-biting 4-2 victory.
Group C became has become the most competitive of all as three teams sit jointly at top with six points, with Indonesia at the bottom with no points from their three games so far. Vietnam suffered their first defeat as they lost 3-1 to Oman while Lebanon notched up their second successive victory after beating hosts Indonesia.
Vietnam will be hoping to avenge the defeat against Oman when they play on home soil in their next game, while Lebanon look to be favourites against Indonesia. At this stage, goal difference will be crucial.
Second qualifying round, Matchday 3 results:
Wednesday 28 March
Group A: Bahrain 4-2 Qatar, Pakistan 0-3 Kuwait
Group B: Hong Kong 0-1 Malaysia, Japan 3-0 Syria
Group C: Indonesia 1-2 Lebanon, Oman 3-1 Vietnam
Group D: Australia 2-0 Saudi Arabia, Iran 0-0 Jordan
Group E: Iraq 1-1 Thailand, India 0-2 DPR Korea
Group F: Korea Republic 2-0 Uzbekistan, Yemen 1-2 UAE