The line-up for Asia's third round of Men’s Olympic Football Tournament preliminaries was completed on Thursday, with a total of 12 teams advancing to the continental qualifying finals for London 2012.
A final draw on 7 July will place these sides into three groups, which will be contested between 21 September 2011 and 14 March 2012, with the section winners guaranteed an Olympic place. The three second-placed teams will then clash at a centralised venue from 25 to 29 March, with one going on to meet an African representative a playoff for a berth at London 2012.
The majority of the favourites proved their credentials, with ten of the 13 seeded sides prevailing in their respective match-ups to make it through. But there were surprises, most notably Oman, who came from nowhere to eliminate China PR 4-1 on aggregate, while unfancied Malaysia stunned Lebanon 2-1.
Aurelio Vidmar's Australia enjoyed arguably the most comfortable victory, firing seven unanswered goals past Yemen over two legs to seal their place in the last 12. "It wasn’t an easy game but we took our chances well," Vidmar said, paying tribute to his players. "We could very easily have scored a couple of more but I’m very pleased that we have got to the next stage."
Also making light work of their opponents were Saudi Arabia, who cruised to a 6-1 aggregate win over Vietnam, and Syria, who recorded an unlikely 4-0 second-leg victory to round off a 6-2 triumph over Turkmenistan. Uzbekistan proved too strong for Hong Kong, advancing as 3-0 winners, while a 3-1 first-leg home win saw Korea Republic through against Jordan despite being held to a 1-1 draw in the return match.
Having beaten Kuwait 3-1 at home in the first leg, Japan looked likely to cruise through when Saki Oriki opened the scoring in the reture on 22 minutes. However, they were made to sweat after the interval, when Hamad Aman equalised to reduce the aggregate deficit before Yousef Nasser Al Salman put the game on edge with a penalty. The Kuwaiti hosts threw everything forward in the closing stages but the could not find the goal that would have forced the game into extra time.
Also close to causing a major upset were Palestine, who entered Thursday's second-leg at home with a solitary-goal advantage over Bahrain courtesy of Khaled Salem's second-half strike. Spurred on by their home crowd, Palestine took the lead on the stroke of half-time, again through the impressive Salem, only for Bahrain to stage a powerful second-half comeback, goals from midfielder Sayed Dhiya Saeed and defender Ali Khalil sending them through on away goals.
Elsewhere, trailing by a 1-0 home defeat to UAE four days ago, Korea DPR clawed themselves back into the contest when forward Pak Kwang Ryong broke the deadlock on 19 minutes. However, the hosts sealed a narrow aggregate win through Hamdan Al Kamali. Enjoying more success, however, were a resolute Malaysia, who battled to a spirited 2-1 home win over Lebanon. That result, coupled with the sides' goalless first-leg draw, saw Malaysia through at the expense of the West Asians.
A series of striking prodigies chose the Olympic qualifiers to explode on to the continental scene, with their goals helping their respective sides through. Topping the second round's scoring charts was Australia No9 Jason Hoffman, who struck a brace to steer his side to an 3-0 first-leg win before netting a hat-trick in their 4-0 victory in the return.
Amjad Radhi, meanwhile, struck in each half as Iraq secured a 2-0 second-leg win over Iran, a result which ensured their passage through despite losing 1-0 in the previous meeting. However, shining most brightly was Oman's Hussain Al Hadhri, who almost single-handedly inspired his side to victory over China. Having capitalised on a defensive error to score the only goal in the sides' first meeting, Al Hadri netted twice and set up another as Oman rounded off their campaign at home with a 3-1 second-leg win.
Second qualifying round results:
19 & 23 June
Qatar 4–2 India (3–1, 1–1)
Iraq 2–1 Iran (0–1, 2–0)
Bahrain 2–2 Palestine (0–1, 2–1 )
Australia 7–0 Yemen (3–0, 4–0)
Japan 4–3 Kuwait (3–1, 1–2)
Syria 6–2 Turkmenistan (2–2, 4–0)
Korea DPR 1–2 United Arab Emirates (0–1, 1–1)
Korea Republic 4–2 Jordan (3–1, 1–1)
Uzbekistan 3–0 Hong Kong (1–0, 2–0)
Saudi Arabia 6–1 Vietnam (2–0, 4–1)
China PR 1–4 Oman (0–1, 1–3 AET)
Lebanon 1–2 Malaysia (0–0,1–2)