With only two matchdays left, east Asian teams continue to dominate their respective groups while a clutch of traditional powerhouses from the Middle East have succeeded in keeping their Olympic dream alive.
On Wednesday, Korea Republic and Japan both qualified for the final stage of Beijing 2008 preliminaries after extending their winning sequences to four games, while Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait all racked up victories to move one step closer to joining them.
For their part, Korea Republic secured a place in the third and final qualifying round by beating Uzbekistan 1-0 in Tashkent. Substitute Baek Ji-Hoon scored the winning goal, curling in a 20-metre freekick with 15 minutes remaining, this shortly after the Suwon Bluewings midfielder had replaced Han Dong-Won. The goal was a major fillip for the 22-year-old, who has been out of form since returning from Germany 2006, where he did not manage a single appearance.
Japan also maintained their 100 per cent record with a 2-0 away win over Syria that, combined with Hong Kong's 1-0 win in Malaysia, sees them virtually seal top spot with two games remaining. Japan now lead Group B with 12 points, with Syria second on six and Malaysia and Hong Kong propping up the table on three.
In Group E, Korea DPR beat India 2-0 at home, while Iraq replied with a 1-0 away win over Thailand three hours later. Those results left the North Koreans leading the group with 10 points, two more than their Iraqi rivals, with the Thais a further four points behind.
Saudis sink Socceroos
In the Middle East, meanwhile, Kuwait preserved their unbeaten run by defeating Pakistan 4-0 at home to stay on top of Group A on ten points. Another 4-0 home win saw Qatar leapfrog Bahrain into second place, and the Qataris could close the three-point gap between them and the leaders when they travel to Kuwait City for their next group fixture in less than a month's time.
Having lost 2-0 to Australia in their previous game, Saudi Arabia returned to winning ways with a 2-1 home victory against the Socceroos, who dropped to third after Iran beat hosts Jordan 3-0. The Saudis are now in pole position in Group D with ten points, with Iran and Australia trailing by five points. The next round of fixtures sees Iran head Down Under next month for a game that will be crucial in the race for second place.
Elsewhere, Vietnam and Lebanon claimed 2-0 and 2-1 home wins over Oman and Indonesia respectively to move joint-top of Group C with nine points. The leaders will now face off against each other in the penultimate group match on 16 May, when Lebanon welcome their south-eastern rivals to Beirut.
Second qualifying round, Matchday 4 results
Wednesday 18 April
Group A: Kuwait 4-0 Pakistan, Qatar 4-0 Bahrain
Group B: Syria 0-2 Japan, Malaysia 0-1 Hong Kong
Group C: Vietnam 2-0 Oman, Lebanon 2-1 Indonesia
Group D: Saudi Arabia 2-1 Australia, Jordan 0-3 Iran
Group E: Korea DPR 2-0 India, Thailand 0-1 Iraq
Group F: Uzbekistan 0-1 Korea Republic, UAE 2-0 Yemen