Korea Republic and Japan continued their dominance in their respective groups with home wins on Sunday as Asia's final qualifying round for the Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 reached the midway mark. But it proved to be hard-fought victories for the east Asian duo with only a first-half penalty separating Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, while Japan needed a late strike to down Syria 2-1.
Uzbekistan, meanwhile, played out a goalless draw in Australia which saw the Central Asians maintain their hold on the third and final automatic berth. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at some breathtaking action across Asia.
Japan 2-1 Syria
Borussia Monchengladbach's new signing Yuki Otsu headed the match-winner four minutes from time as Japan emerged 2-1 victors against Syria in Group C's top-of-the-table clash. The home triumph not only put Takashi Sekizuka's outfit into the driving seat ahead of the return meeting in February, but also saw the Mexico 1968 bronze medallists become the only team to maintain an unblemished record across the three groups.
Japan got the better of the opening half with their creative play and went in front just before the break, as defender Mizuki Hamada headed home Takahiro Ogihara's pass. The west Asians, however, proved they were no pushovers when Omar Al Suma wriggled past three defenders to equalise with 15 minutes remaining. Just as the visitors looked on course to steal a point, Otsu's eased the home crowd's worries when he got his head onto Yusuke Higa's quality cross.
Malaysia 2-3 Bahrain
In the other match, a ten-man Bahrain came from two goals down to beat hosts Malaysia 3-2 to keep their slim hopes alive. Both sides entered the match desperately seeking their first points but it was the home side who, having recently won the football gold at the SEA Games, took the lead courtesy of Muhammad Nazmi’s long-range effort on 26 minutes.
The visitors' woes were compounded with Fahad Showaiter's dismissal on the hour-mark and their hopes of a comeback were dealt a further blow when Mohamed Al Hayam put the ball into his own net with 21 minutes to go. The Bahrainis were down but not out and Saad Al Amer pulled one back with a bicycle-kick on 80 minutes as the west Asians sought a lifeline. But it was midfielder Isa Al Ahmed who proved Bahrain's hero as he levelled the scoreline with a superbly-taken free-kick, before going on to score the winner two minutes later.
The other attractions
In Group A, having suffered an unexpected 2-0 defeat in Oman four days earlier, Saudi Arabia arrived in Seoul knowing that they had few options but to beat Korea Republic. However, defender Ahmed Walibi gave away a foul on the hour-mark to gift the hosts a penalty from which Cho Young-Cheol scored the game's only goal. The result, coupled with the 1-1 draw between Oman and Qatar in the other match (which was eventually forfeited by Qatar), saw the Koreans cement their place at the top with seven points. The Qataris are trailing behind with three points while the Saudis were left languishing at the bottom with a solitary point.
United Arab Emirates lost 2-0 at home to Iraq (a game eventually forfeited by Iraq) leaving them rooted to the bottom of Group B. Abdulraheem Karrar and Sabah Al Hlaichi struck in each half as the Iraqis sealed their first win to move second behind leaders Uzbekistan. After the matchday the section is wide open with just three points separating the four contenders.
Having completed a high-profile move to Monchengladbach this summer, Otsu maintained his goalscoring form upon his return to the Asian continent, opening the scoring in the 2-0 defeat of Bahrain before sealed victory against Syria.
0 - Australia are still seeking their first goal while Malaysia are now the only side with zero points.
What they said
“We get in front of the penalty box time and time again, but the wall pass goes too long or the through ball hits the striker on the back of the neck instead of going in front of him. It's the small detail that's letting us down,'' Australia coach Aurelio Vidmar
Final qualifying round for London 2010, matchday 3
Korea Republic 1-0 Saudi Arabia
Oman 1-1 Qatar *
United Arab Emirates 0-2 Iraq **
Australia 0-0 Uzbekistan
Japan 2-1 Syria
* Qatar were forced to forfeit the result for fielding an ineligible player and Oman were awarded a 3-0 win.
** Iraq were forced to forfeit the result for fielding an ineligible player and UAE were awarded a 3-0 win