Australia became the first side to qualify for the 2007 Asian Cup finals after securing a hard-fought a 2-0 home victory over Kuwait. The Socceroos successfully achieved their first goal since leaving the Oceania Football Confederation for Asia thanks to strikes from Travis Dodd and Sasho Petrovski in the last 14 minutes in Sydney.
Japan struggled to a 2-0 win over Yemen in Niigata but victory kept the holders level with Saudi Arabia on six points in Group A. Striker Yasser Al Qahtani fired a hat-trick to help the Saudis to a 3-0 away victory over India .
Australia were missing all their European-based players but Dodd's debut goal and substitute Petrovski's close-range effort three minutes from time maintained the team's momentum after they reached the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup. "We all know what Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell can do but we needed to know about the others," Australia's caretaker coach Graham Arnold told reporters. "The A-League players showed they can handle international football."
The Australians, who became part of the Asian Football Confederation in January this year, advanced to next year's Asian Cup finals after Lebanon's withdrawal from qualifying due to the current conflict in the Middle East. Therefore, Australia's victory guaranteed them at least a place among the top two teams in a Group D reduced to three teams. Co-hosts Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand have already qualified automatically for the 16-team finals.
Japan failed to impress in their first competitive match under former Yugoslavia coach Ivica Osim but second-half goals from Yuki Abe and Hisato Sato saw them collect all three points . Next up for the Samurai Blue is a trip to Yemen for the return game and Osim has warned his squad to be on their guard. "When we play them in Yemen they could be a very different team," he said. "There is a tale from Greek mythology that says a man can regain his power once he steps back on to his home land."
Korea Republic maintained their perfect record in Group B as they produced an efficient 3-0 win away to Chinese Taipei in a game that witnessed Pim Verbeek's first competitive match in charge of the team. Ahn Jung-Hwan gave South Korea a 31st-minute lead before goals from Jung Jo-Gook and Kim Do-Goon after the break secured the points.
Underdogs have their day
While there were few big surprises for most of the continent's top teams, three-time Asian champions Iran of were dealt a blow as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Syria in Tehran. Iran, who were without injured duo Ali Karimi and Vahid Hashemian, dominated the game from the outset, but found themselves frustrated by a spirited Syrian side. The recent FIFA World Cup finalists took the lead through Javad Nekounam in the 72nd minute, but the visitors claimed a point when Zyad Chaabo claimed a last-minute equaliser.
In Group F, Hong Kong pulled off a similar surprise as the come from 2-0 down to draw against Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks looked strong in Tashkent as they raced to a two-goal lead thanks to strikes from Anvarjon Soliev and Maksim Shatskikh. However, a brace of goals in the second half from Sham Kwok Keung restored parity for the visitors. The result leaves Qatar, who defeated Bangladesh 4-1 away from home, five points clear at the top of the group.
Ten-man China struggled to a 1-0 win over Singapore in Group E. The sides could only be separated in injury-time when Shao Jiayi who converted a penalty kick. "It would be unforgivable if we failed to qualify," said the midfielder afterwards. China, however, top the group with six points. Singapore, three behind, are level on points with Palestine and Iraq, who meet in Amman on Thursday.
Meanwhile, United Arab Emirates enjoyed a 2-1 victory in Jordan to give them nine points from three games in Group C. Oman are three behind the current group leaders after defeating Pakistan 4-1 in Islamabad.
Matchday three fixtures
India 0-3 Saudi Arabia
Japan 2-0 Yemen
Chinese Taipei 0-3 Korea Republic
Iran 1-1 Syria
Pakistan 1-4 Oman
Jordan 1-2 UAE
Australia 2-0 Kuwait
China 1-0 Singapore
Palestine - Iraq (Thursday)
Uzbekistan 2-3 Hong Kong
Bangladesh 1-4 Qatar