Asia's titanic trio - Iran, Japan and Korea Republic - all prevailed with hard-fought victories in AFC third round qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Iran moved to the summit of Group A after downing hosts Uzbekistan 1-0 and share the top spot with Korea Republic, who came from behind to defeat Qatar 3-2 at home. Japan, meanwhile, edged Iraq 2-1 to keep pressure on joint-leaders Australia and Saudi Arabia in Group B, who negotiated a 2-2 draw in a top-of-the-table clash.
Elsewhere, brave Syria salvaged a lifeline after overcoming hosts China PR 1-0. United Arab Emirates, too, bounced back from their previous loss to Australia with a 3-1 home win against Thailand as they put their campaign back on track. Join FIFA.com as we take a closer look at these showdowns across Asia.
Korea Republic 3-2 Qatar
Goals: Ki Sungyueng 11, Ji Dongwon 56, Son Heungmin 58; Hasan Al Haydos 16 (PEN), Sebastian Soria 45
Korea Republic showed why they are Asia's most successful team on the FIFA World Cup qualifying scene, demonstrating their trademark fighting spirit with a powerful comeback victory against Qatar. In a fiercely-contested match which saw a red card and five goals, the visitors, under new boss Jorge Fossati, did cause a problem or two for the hosts. In fact, the Qataris finished the first half with a 2-1 lead but in the end, it was Uli Stielike's Taeguk Warriors that had the final say with two quickfire goals in the second half sending them through.
In what proved a battle, captain Ki Sungyueng put the hosts ahead with a diagonal low shot from 25 metres out. But Hasan Al Haydos drew the visitors level with a spot-kick just five minutes later, while Sebastian Soria struck before the break to give them an unexpected lead. As they had shown on more than one occasion in the past, though, the South Koreans were down but not out. They came out battling after the restart with Ji Dongwon restoring parity before Son Heungmin completed the fightback with a consummate volley.
The other attractions
Mahmoud Al Mawas scored the only goal as Syria grabbed their first three points of the campaign at the expense of hosts China PR. Both sides entered the meeting aiming to get their campaign off the ground, having obtained just a point each from their opening two outings. After a goalless first half during which neither side could carve out clear-cut chances, Gao Hongbo's side piled the pressure on the visitors as they sought the opener. However, it was the Syrians who made the breakthrough, Al Mawas capitalising on a goalkeeping error by Gu Chao to knock the ball into an empty net on 54 minutes. The victory came as a timely morale-booster for Syria heading into Tuesday's away meeting against Qatar while China face a must-win scenario going into their away fixture against Uzbekistan.
A Jalal Hosseini first-half header proved the difference as Iran edged hosts Uzbekistan 1-0. With two victories from two, Uzbekistan entered matchday three hoping to keep their 100 per cent record intact. But Carlos Queiroz's visitors had the better of the first half with Hosseini breaking the deadlock after heading off Masoud Shojaei’s in-swinging free-kick on 27 minutes. Samvel Babayan’s hosts pressed forward after the interval but without playmaker Server Djeparov who got injured before the break, they couldn't breach their rivals' tightly-knit defence. The result put the Uzbeks’ winning streak to a close while it provides Team Melli with bolstered confidence going into their top-of-the-table clash with Korea Republic in Group A.
Second-half substitute Hotaru Yamaguchi came to the rescue for Japan by scoring the match-winner, courtesy of his stoppage-time strike in a 2-1 victory against Iraq. Cheered on by the home crowd, the Samurai Blue took the expected lead on 26 minutes when a three-man move was completed by Genki Haraguchi, who deftly flicked past keeper Mohammed Hameed. But the resilient Iraqis drew level on the hour-mark when Saad Abdulamir scored through a glancing header. As the match looked destined for a stalemate, Yamaguchi latched on to a free-kick to seal the precious three points ahead of their next outing away in Australia.
Hosts United Arab Emirates proved too strong for Thailand as they inflicted a 3-1 defeat on the visitors at home. Ali Mabkhout scored in each half to give the home team a comfortable 2-0 lead and although Tana Chanabut pulled one back for the Thais on 65 minutes, Ahmed Khalil sealed the victory for the home side with a stoppage-time strike. Elsewhere, hosts Saudi Arabia and Australia shared the spoils in a 2-2 stalemate. Trent Sainsbury cancelled out Taisir Al Jassim's early opener for the hosts as the two sides finished the first half locked at 1-1. Tomi Juric would put the Socceroos ahead on 71 minutes but their lead proved shortlived with Nassir Al Shamrani netting the equaliser eight minutes later as the two sides remain undefeated in this campaign, sharing the section's top place with seven points each.
Qatar may have lost to Korea Republic once again. However, their striking-ace Sebastian Soria stood out by having a hand in both goals. A goal down, the 32-year-old, playing in his 34th FIFA World Cup qualifying game, surged into the area and earned a spot-kick from which they drew level. He would show his predatory talents by giving his side the lead with what was his tenth qualifying goal. And the evergreen striker could even have sealed a point for the visitors with a powerful header had it not been for Kim Seunggyu's excellent save in the closing stages.
Do you know?
Ahmed Khalil's goal against Thailand marks his fourteenth in this campaign and moves him level with tournament top-scorer Mohammad Al Sahlawi of Saudi Arabia.
What they said
"We had a very tough game but, as we promised the Syrian people, we have achieved a fantastic result. We performed everything in the match successfully, especially in the attacking part. We have scored our first goal in this group, and I hope we can score more in the future, and secure more good results," Syria coach Ayman Alhakim
Matchday 3 results
Korea Republic 3-2 Qatar
China 0-1 Syria
Uzbekistan 0-1 Iran
Japan 2-1 Iraq
United Arab Emirates 3-1 Thailand
Saudi Arabia 2-2 Australia