Goals galore in Asian qualifiers
© AFP

Traditionally, Asia's FIFA World Cup preliminaries could always be relied upon to serve up some big victories and so it was in the first round of qualifying for South Africa 2010, with five of Monday's eight first leg ties ending in emphatic wins.

Thailand were the biggest victors, beating Macau 6-1, however it was their regional neighbours Singapore who stole the show with a surprisingly convincing 4-0 victory away to Palestine. Having lost to the same side by a solitary goal in a 2007 AFC Asian Cup qualifying match last year, Singapore were by no means favourites at Doha's Al Rayyan Sports Club Stadium, but the Lions moved in front a minute before the break through Shi Jiayi, who went on to double the lead only eight minutes into the second half. John Wilkinson then made it 3-0 on 73 minutes before Noh Alam Shah scored four minutes from time to seal the shock win.

The resounding win puts Singapore in a strong position to progress to the second round, while the qualifying task for Palestine, despite being known for their resilience and never-say-die spirit, now looks to be mission improbable. The west Asians will, after all, need to better Singapore's margin of victory when they are entertained in the return leg on 28 October.

Aside from the result, Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic was happy that his side were able to avoid serious injury during the match, although the experienced Serbian warned his players to "take good care of themselves" when they returned to their clubs ahead of the return meeting.

Vietnam tumble as west Asians celebrate
While Thailand and Singapore cruised to big wins, the team widely considered to be Asia's emerging force, Vietnam, suffered a 1-0 home defeat to United Arab Emirates. This came as a massive disappointment to the Vietnamese, particularly coming with the memory still fresh of their memorable 2-0 win over UAE en route the Asian Cup quarter-finals as co-hosts.

Playing in front of their adoring fans, the home side attacked from the off but their visitors, under Frenchman Bruno Metsu, soaked up the first pressure and hit back in the second half, their efforts paying off with 12 minutes remaining when Basheer Saeed silenced the 33,000-strong home crowd with the game's only goal.

Joining UAE in celebrating opening victories were fellow west Asian nations Syria and Yemen, who registered identical 3-0 wins over Maldives and Afghanistan respectively.

There was also a three-goal winning margin for Lebanon as their eagerly-anticipated match against India turned into a surprisingly lop-sided affair. Having lifted the Nehru Cup with an historic 1-0 final win over Syria in August, India's English coach Bob Houghton had expressed confidence that his team would not return from Beirut empty-handed as they faced up to a Lebanon team he believed to be no better than Syria.

Initially, Houghton's bullish attitude appeared justified when Sunil Chetri put India in front on the half-hour mark, but the visiting side's joy lasted for only five minutes, with Lebanon's German-based Roda Antar quick to level matters. Cheered on by their passionate home support, Lebanon subsequently gained a stranglehold on the match after the break, sealing victory with a three-goal burst inside the space of 14 minutes.

Elsewhere, Oman secured a 2-0 home win against Nepal in which Fauzi Basheer opened the scoring after only five minutes and victory was assured by a Hassan Mudaffar penalty 17 minutes later. The only draw came in Dhaka's Bangabandhu National Stadium, where Bangladesh held Tajikistan 1-1.

The remainder of the first leg matches will now be played from 11 to 22 October, with the decisive second legs scheduled for 28 October.

2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, Asian Zone, first round first leg
October 8
Syria 3 - 0 Afghanistan
Bangladesh 1 - 1 Tajikistan
Lebanon 4 - 1 India
Oman 2 - 0 Nepal
Palestine 0 - 4 Singapore
Thailand 6 - 1 Macau
Vietnam 0 - 1 United Arab Emirates
Yemen 3 - 0 Maldives Republic

Forthcoming first leg fixtures:
11 October
Cambodia-Turkmenistan

13 October
Uzbekistan-Chinese Taipei

18 October
Kyrgyzstan-Jordan

21 October
Bahrain-Malaysia
China PR-Myanmar
Mongolia-Korea DPR
Sri Lanka-Qatar
Timor Leste-Hong Kong

22 October
Pakistan-Iraq