The 30 goals scored by former Iran hero Ali Daei looks like an unbreakable record, one that will stand the test of time in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Daei scored seven and four during the qualifiers for USA '94 and France '98 respectively, then added 10 during Korea/Japan preliminaries to tie Kazu Miura's milestone of 21 goals before moving out on his own with nine more ahead of Germany 2006.
But records are made to be broken. Certainly, there are a clutch of eager forwards who are eager to follow in Daei's footsteps in the latest edition of the Asian qualifying rounds.
Thailand's No9 Sarayoot Chaikamdee, plying his trade with Vietnamese outfit Pisico Binh Dinh, is currently on top of the scoring charts with seven goals in four games. After scoring a goal against Yemen in the second stage of the Preliminary Competition for Germany 2006, the 26-year-old striker found the net again in a 1-1 draw with the same opponent before sending his country through to the third round with the only goal of the second leg in Bangkok last month. Thailand had reached the second round with a comprehensive 13-2 aggregate win over Macau, with Chaikamdee netting five times in the process.
Uzbek Maksim Shatskikh stormed into second top scorer position with five goals in the campaign opener against Chinese Taipei. Uzbekistan won the first leg 9-0 in Tashkent, then sealed their place in the third round with a 2-0 win in Taipei. The Dynamo Kiev star also scored five goals during the qualifiers for Germany 2006, as well as one against Oman in September 2001. Notably, 10 out of his 11 goals so far in the Preliminary Competition were scored at home in Tashkent.
Syria's Ziad Chabo and Raja Rafe are jointly in third with four goals each. The attacking duo each scored a hat-trick in a 7-0 drubbing of Indonesia in the second round, after they picked up one goal apiece in a 4-1 away win in the first leg. Rafe's record looks more impressive, as he scored all of his goals as a second-half substitute.
Meanwhile, Asian champions Iraq had Mahdi Karim to thank for their current place in the group stages, as his four goals helped the Gulf side to reach the third round at the expense of Pakistan. Having won the first leg 7-0, the Iraqis claimed their spot in the Last 20 with a goalless draw at home.
Korea DPR starlet Jong Chol-Min is another player to watch in the third round. The 19-year-old forward, who played in all of North Korea's seven matches at the FIFA U-17 World Cup two years ago and the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada this summer, opened his account with a hat-trick against Mongolia before adding another in the second leg in Pyongyang. Jong's contemporary and a very different player with the same name, Pak Chol Min, also played a key role in the 9-2 aggregate victory, scoring three goals.
It is far too soon to tell who will finish top scorer in the region, with Asia's top five teams joining the others in February as the battle intensifies. Although the quintet will begin the race from square one, they boast plenty of players who are more than capable of challenging the current leaders in the continental scoring charts.
Australia's Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell, Japan's Naohiro Takahara, Korea Republic's Lee Chun-Soo, Saudi Arabia's Yasser Al Qahtani, and Iran's Vahid Hashemian have already gone through successful qualifying campaigns for previous FIFA World Cups, and they will be hoping to add their tallies in the games to come next year.