Uzbekistan, Qatar, Oman, Iran and Kuwait stormed into the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, but China hit a stumbling block and face a tough final game to decide their fate.
The Uzbeks and Oman both left it late before downing Hong Kong and Syria respectively, while 2022 FIFA World Cup™ hosts Qatar booked their spot with a 1-0 win over Malaysia, however China's bid will go down to the wire after a 0-0 draw with Saudi Arabia. Iran victory over Lebanon saw them make up the day's qualified sides.
The day's results mean 12 teams are now confirmed for the next Asian Cup, including hosts Australia and defending champions Japan, midway through the penultimate full round of qualifiers. China though have set themselves up for a tough final game, away against 2007 winners Iraq, after failing to break down already qualified Saudi Arabia in Xian.
The team led by caretaker manager Fu Bo made all the running but just failed to deliver the killer blow. Guangzhou right-back Zhang Linpeng had a strong late penalty shout turned down and with the last kick of the game, his club team-mate Huang Bowen put a free-kick inches wide.
Meanwhile pool rivals Iraq beat Indonesia 2-0 in Jakarta to pull within two points of China, who currently occupy Group C's second automatic qualifying spot behind leaders Saudi Arabia. The teams will meet in March with China needing to avoid defeat to not sit out the Asian Cup for the first time since their debut appearance in 1976.
Late tickets booked
Elsewhere, in Tehran, Oman left it until injury time to secure their vital 1-0 win over Syria courtesy of a first-time strike from midfielder Eid Al Farsi. Uzbekistan also put on a late show in Hong Kong after Vokhid Shodiev and Odil Ahmedov's goals in the 84th and 89th minutes grabbed a 2-0 win and ensured their qualification from Group E.
In the other Group E match, hosts United Arab Emirates showed no mercy against Vietnam, winning 5-0. In Abu Dhabi, UAE went ahead in the 19th minute and were 4-0 up before the break, with Ahmed Khali finishing the rout in the second minute of injury time. It was the already-qualified UAE's fifth win in five.
Kuwait and Iran also made it to the quadrennial tournament when the former beat Thailand 3-1, while being aided by Iran's 4-1 defeat of Lebanon in Beirut.
Iran proved too strong for Lebanon, silencing the home supporters with four goals in the first 65 minutes from Amirhossein Sadeghi (39), Ashkan Dejagah (51), captain Javad Nekonam (55) and Reza Ghoochannejhad Nournia (65). Lebanon's sole goal came in the 79th minute through Mohamad Haider.
Kuwait's chances of qualifying looked much better when they started the match with Iran already 2-0 up, with Lebanon just a point behind at the start of play, and they did not disappoint the home fans in Kuwait City.
Yousef Naser in the 19th minute and Fahad Awad in the 56th had put the hosts 2-0 up before Thailand pulled one back through Mongkol in the 68th minute. But Naser ensured there would be no rude shocks for the Kuwaitis when he restored the two-goal advantage within three minutes.
In a Group D match, Bahrain went to the top of the table ahead of Qatar with a 2-0 win over Yemen in Manama. Goals two minutes into the match (Mohamed Salmeen) and two minutes before the end of regulation time (Faouzi Aaish) sealed a deserving win for Bahrain.
Both Bahrain and Qatar are assured a place in Australia with four wins in five matches each.