There were no big surprises on Sunday as the favourites got their 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualification campaigns underway with opening leg victories in Asia. Continental power China PR, under new coach Vladimir Petrovic, eased aside neighbouring Myanmar 7-0 to put the two-legged tie almost beyond doubt, while Bahrain and Korea DPR proved too strong for their opponents and ran out 4-1 winners over Malaysia and Mongolia respectively.
Sri Lanka came closest to an upset, holding Qatar to a goalless draw until a 69th-minute strike from Sebastian Quintana earned the visitors a slender win. Timor Leste, who only became a FIFA member in 2005, also battled courageously on their FIFA World Cup qualifying debut in a 3-2 defeat by Hong Kong.
Petrovic passes opening test
The 7-0 triumph came as a timely boost for China, who disappointed during July's AFC Asian Cup where they failed to progress beyond the group stage. It was also a dream start for Serbian coach Petrovic, who took over only a month ago.
Despite playing without their European-based stars, Petrovic's new-look team lived up to expectations and treated their adoring fans to an entertaining performance. Pacy forward Qu Bo put the home side in front on 17 minutes, unleashing a powerful drive past Myanmar goalkeeper Aung Oo Aung from Sun Xiang's left-wing cross. Only seven minutes later, Du Zhenyu doubled their lead to send the in at the break with a two-goal cushion.
China upped the tempo after restart with the attacking midfielder Zheng Bin on in place of Xiao Zhanbo and it did not take them long to score the third goal, Yang Lin dispatching Qu Bo's pinpoint centre from close range. After second half substitutes Liu Jian and Li Jinyu each scored to make it 5-0, China captain Li Weifeng netted the goal of the game, acrobatically flicking a clearance into his stride before finishing with a spectacular half-volley. The impressive Qu Bo completed his brace eleven minutes from time to complete the scoring.
After leading China to victory, the team's biggest ever win under a foreign coach, Petrovic acknowledged the result could be no better. "Our players did much better even than I had expected," admitted the former Yugoslav international. "What made me even happier was that the team played a very good passing game according to our plan."
The return leg between China and Myanmar will be played on neutral ground in Malaysia on 28 October.
Sri Lanka look to return leg
While the big victories put China, Korea DPR and Bahrain in strong positions to advance, Sri Lanka are still in with a chance of progressing having suffered a narrow loss to Qatar. Playing in front of their own supporters in the Sugathadasa Stadium of Colombo, Sri Lanka's defended resolutely. Despite being pinned into their own third for the majority of match, the hosts also created a couple of good chances with striker Kasun Jayasuriya nearly opening scoring in the 20th minute.
Sri Lankan coach Jang Jung told the media afterwards that his team put up brilliant performance against the strongly-fancied Qatar, indication that they are not there to make up the numbers. The two sides will meet again in Doha in one week's time and with just a single goal separating them, an intense battle is in store.