Japan suffer shock loss
© AFP

It was a tough night for the heavyweights of Asian football with both Iran and Australia held while Japan suffered a surprise loss in the latest round of AFC Asian Cup 2011 qualifying.

Japan, Asian champions in 1992, 2000 and 2004, went down to a 1-0 defeat against Bahrain in Manama with Salman Isa scoring the winner in the 25th minute to give Bahrain their second successive victory. It was Japan's first defeat following a 2-1 victory over Yemen at home while Bahrain, who lead Group A, won their opener against Hong Kong 3-1.

"Our performance was not good and we will try to bounce back in the next matches," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada. "I didn't expect to lose as we know that we are a good side." For Japan, playing without their Europe-based stars, captain and defender Yuji Nakazawa was in the thick of the action but with Okazaki Shinji and Tamada Keiji off colour most of their moves lacked cohesion.

It was Bahrain's second victory over Japan in seven encounters and ended a poor run of straight defeats in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying last year. In the other Group A match Yemen scored a 1-0 home win over Hong Kong thanks to a 52nd minute goal from substitute Akram Al Selwi.

Pim Verbeek's rookie Australian side opened its AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign with a gritty scoreless draw against Indonesia. Peter Reid's Thailand held Ali Daei's formidable Iran, also three-time champions, to a 0-0 draw in Bangkok while Syria, who are in Group D along with China, kept up their perfect record with a second win, a 2-0 success in Lebanon.

Playing in Jakarta's imposing Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Australia, made up entirely of A-League players, saw Indonesian striker Budi Sudarsano miss from close range on 62 minutes. Archie Thompson and Paul Reid went close for Australia, but the breakthrough never came.

Oman, buoyed by their recent maiden Gulf Cup success, went top of Group B with a 1-0 win in Kuwait with Hassan Rabea scoring in the 63rd minute. Kuwait missed a last-minute penalty awarded for a foul on Hamad Al Enazi. Bader Al Mutawa failed to beat goalkeeper Mohammad Al Hooti who then denied Waled Ali on the follow-up. Australia are third in the table behind Oman who have four points. Second-placed Indonesia have two points, but the Socceroos have a game in hand.

In Bangkok, Iran were expected to take all three points after running riot in a 6-0 drubbing of Singapore a fortnight ago, but the Thais battled hard for a point. "I think Iran are favourites but we've got as good a chance as anybody else," said Thai coach Reid. "We acquitted ourselves very well. We defended when we had to and we tried to create chances."

Iran lead Group E with four points while Singapore are second with three points after clinching a hard-fought 2-1 home victory over Jordan. Agu Casmir got their opener after 21 minutes but Jordan were level four minutes before the break when Hatem Aqel made no mistake from the penalty spot. Singapore though were rewarded when Noh Alam Shah scored the winner on 63 minutes.

In Group C, a 30th-minute goal from Farhod Tadijev gave Uzbekistan a 1-0 win over the United Arab Emirates in Sharjah. The UAE stay top of the three-team section after a 5-0 mauling of Malaysia in their opener.

The top two teams in each group qualify for the 2011 finals. Qatar qualify automatically as hosts while Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea are assured of their places after finishing as the top three in the 2007 tournament. India has already qualified for the finals after winning the AFC Challenge Cup last year.