Drama and surprises were abundant on the opening matchday of Asian Zone, second-round qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Guam and Philippines upset Turkmenistan and Bahrain respectively, while Malaysia were held to a draw by Timor-Leste.
Hong Kong, Singapore and Syria did nevertheless vindicate their favouritism with resounding victories, but Qatar and Saudi Arabia only snatched wins they were expected to cruise to courtesy of 11th-hour goals. FIFA.com reviews the action.
Philippines 2-1 Bahrain
Misagh Bahadoran 50, Javier Patino 60; Abdulwahab Al Malood 90+3
Philippines coach Tom Dooley had told FIFA.com that their goal is the second place in Group H, which is arguably one of the hardest of all. Motivational speech or not, the former USA captain saw his hopes boosted by edging AFC Asian Cup 2015 campaigners Bahrain 2-1. It came as another breakthrough for the Philippines, who recorded their maiden qualifying victory over Sri Lanka on the road to Brazil 2014.
Each side carved out chances of their own in a goalless first half, although the home side came the closest with Javier Patino denied from a one-on-one opportunity. The tide turned in the hosts' favour after the interval when midfielder Misagh Bahadoran opened the scoring off a Phil Younghusband cross. Patino would double the lead shortly afterwards, leaving Abdulwahab Al Malood's stoppage-time strike no more than just a consolation. Joining the Philippines in celebration were Korea DPR, who scraped past hosts Yemen with So Hyon Uk netting the only goal.
The other attractions
In Group A, Ramon Saro cancelled out Mohd Safee Sali’s first-half opener with a stoppage-time effort as as Timor-Leste came from behind to hold hosts Malaysia to a 1-1 draw. The result served to benefit Saudi Arabia, who moved to the section summit with a 3-2 home win against Palestine.
Group B's Kyrgyzstan scored four times, including an own-goal, as they won 3-1 in Bangladesh. All four goals came within the opening half with Serbia-based midfielder Anton Zemlianukhin completing a brace sandwiched by an Edgar Bernhardt spot-kick. It was, though, a contrasting story for neighbouring Tajikistan, who lost to Jordan at home by the identical scoreline with Hassan Mahmoud completing a hat-trick.
Group C's Bhutan may have arrived in Hong Kong hoping to continue their fairy-tale run. However, the ambitious visitors were soon brought down to the earth, conceding seven unanswered goals in their third outing. In the pool’s other game, Qatar had to wait until deep into stoppage time for Ahmed Al Sayed to score the only goal against hosts Maldives.
A Serdar Annaorazov own-goal on 14 minutes gifted hosts Guam their maiden qualifying victory against Turkmenistan, having suffered two straight defeats to crash out in their last and only past campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. The win was all the more significant considering that the islanders conceded 17 unanswered goals to another Central Asian side – Tajikistan - in their last qualifier 15 years ago. The ground-breaking victory saw Gary White's side move top of Group D alongside Oman, who defeated hosts India 2-1.
In Group E, Syria proved too strong for hosts Afghanistan, cruising to a 6-0 victory with striking veteran Raja Rafe twice on target. Hot on their heels are Singapore, who ran out 4-0 winners in Cambodia. Defender Safuwan Baharudin struck twice as the Lions extended their dominant winning tally against their rivals to 12.
Yousef Nasser scored the only goal with four minutes left as Kuwait downed hosts Lebanon 1-0 to top Group G. The other match saw hosts Laos negotiate out a 2-2 draw with Myanmar in a seesaw battle. In the process, the home side came from behind to lead 2-1 courtesy of two quick-fire goals by Khampheng Sayavutthi. As Laos looked destined to claim an opening win, though, the visitors stole a point with Kyaw Zayar equalising five minutes from time.
Oman's Amad Al Hosni is among Asia’s most experienced campaigners, having represented his country in qualifying for the past three FIFA World Cups™. The 30-year-old Saham SC forward has developed a reputation for scoring crucial goals, notably striking the winner as Oman surprised Australia on the road to Brazil 2014. With the two sides locked at 1-1, not surprisingly, Al Hosni again came to the team's rescue by sealing the victory with a spot-kick five minutes from the break.
Did you know?
This opening matchday saw goals galore, with 46 scored across 14 matches. Six players completed a brace, while Jordan’s Hassan Mahmoud recorded a hat-trick.
What they said
"Our team should have performed better, although the players did their best. It was a disappointing start. Now we should switch sights to the next game and we will go out." Norio Tsukitate, Bhutan coach
Matchday 1 results
Group A: Malaysia 1-1 Timor-Leste, Saudi Arabia 3-2 Palestine
Group B: Bangladesh 1-3 Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan 1-3 Jordan
Group C: Hong Kong 7-0 Bhutan, Maldives 0-1 Qatar
Group D: Guam 1-0 Turkmenistan, India 1-2 Oman
Group E: Cambodia 0-4 Singapore, Afghanistan 0-6 Syria
Group G: Laos 2-2 Myanmar, Lebanon 0-1 Kuwait
Group H: Philippines 2-1 Bahrain, Yemen 0-1 Korea DPR