The line-up of Asia’s third qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ was complete with the remaining seven slots filled on Tuesday’s closing matchday of the second round. While Australia, Iran and Uzbekistan all prevailed to progress as group winners, Syria, Iraq, China PR and United Arab Emirates finished as the four best runners-up to join the already-qualified Qatar, Korea Republic, Japan, Thailand and Saudi Arabia in the next phase. The draw for the next round will take place on 12 April in Kuala Lumpur.


With the competition also serving as the qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates, these teams received added reward with qualification to the continental finals. Despite elimination from FIFA World Cup qualifying, though, the rest of the sides all made it to AFC Asian Cup qualifying. The next top-sixteen finishers, including the four remaining runners-up, progress to the third qualifying round to UAE 2019, while even the rest of the teams had their own share of joy by featuring in the AFC Asian Cup qualifying play-off round. Join as we review all of the exciting action across the continent.  


The match

Philippines 3-2 Korea DPR 

Goals: Misagh Bahadoran 43, Manuel Ott 84, Iain Ramsay 90; So Kyong Jin 45+2, Ri Hyok Chol 48


Philippines from Group H, under American Thomas Dooley, produced one of the matchday's biggest surprises by overcoming South Africa 2010 finalists Korea DPR 3-2, fulfilling the former USA captain's promise of defeating the Chollima at home. In what proved to be a seesaw-battle, the hosts, who came away with an unlikely goalless draw in Pyongyang, came from behind to see off a side 44 places above them in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. While the result did little to help the Razkals’ qualification, it did contribute in shattering the visitors' hopes of a place in the last 12.


Desperately needing points to secure progression, Korea DPR pressed hard from the outset. It was, however, the home side that took the lead in surprising fashion, Misagh Bahadoran heading home to complete a move initiated by Javier Patino two minutes from the break. So Kyong-Jin soon drew the scoreline level before Ri Hyok-Chol put the visitors ahead shortly after the restart. The game looking destined for victory in the visitors’ favour, however, the home side staged a strong comeback with a two quick-fire goals from Manuel Ott and Iain Ramsay sealing a memorable victory for the tournament debutants. In another match in the group, having seen their progression confirmed by Korea DPR's loss, Uzbekistan went on to win 1-0 over Bahrain at home.


The other attractions

With Saudi Arabia qualified as winners of the pool, all focus in Group A was on United Arab Emirates. After both Jordan and Korea DPR lost respectively, the job by the 2019 AFC Asian Cup hosts became easy as they could progress on goal difference even with a home loss. As it turned out, Omar Abdulrahman cancelled out Taisir Al Jassim's early strike as UAE played out a 1-1 stalemate against the Saudis, a result which proved more than enough to seal their progression. Another game saw Palestine finish on a high, firing seven unanswered goals past Timor-Leste at home.


Robbie Kruse provided three assists as Group B winners Australia rounded off their second round campaign with an emphatic 5-1 home defeat of Jordan. The victory saw Ange Postecoglou's Socceroos progress as clear section winners and left the visitors in contention for one of the four best-runners-up spots. With the other concerning results unfolding, though, the Jordanians were left bemoaning their lack of luck as they narrowly missed out on a place in the next round by trailing both China and UAE by just a point in the runners-up standings. 


In Group C, China surprised even their own supporters by sealing their return to Asia's final qualifying round by finishing among the four best runners-up with a 2-0 home triumph against qualified Qatar. Huang Bowen broke the deadlock on 57 minutes before Wu Lei sealed the three points two minutes from time as Gao Hongbo's side avenged their 1-0 loss to the same opponents. And Team Dragon's progression was confirmed with fellow runners-up contenders Jordan, Korea DPR and Oman all losing out. Maldives came from 2-1 down to score three late goals to defeat Bhutan 4-2 in the group's other match.


Iran won Group D as expected after defeating Oman 2-0 at home. Forward prodigy Sardar Azmoun scored twice in the space of seven minutes midway through the first half as the Team Melli ran out deserved winners. The other game saw Turkmenistan come from behind to win 2-1 away against India. 


It proved one-way traffic for Group E's qualified Japan, who crushed Syria 5-0 at home. In a match the Samurai Blue dominated throughout, Shinji Kagawa scored twice as the Japanese showed the visitors no mercy. Despite the loss, the Syrians made it to the next phase courtesy of their previous results which earned them a strong runners-up finish. In the other game, with a third-place finish already secured, Singapore lost to Afghanistan 2-1 away as their German manager Bernd Stange saw his three-year tenure end in disappointing fashion.


In Group F, young striker Mohannad Abdul-Raheem netted the only goal against Vietnam as Iraq sealed the much-needed three points to qualify as one of the best runners-up teams. It proved to be, though, a disappointing ending for Group G's Lebanon, who saw their slim hopes evaporate after being held to a 1-1 draw by Myanmar at home. 


The player

A day after this day in 2004, at Loftus Road in London, Tim Cahill made his debut in a friendly against South Africa. Twevle years on, the 36-year-old Socceroos top-scorer, who played just 23 minutes as a substitute in Australia's 2-0 loss away, completed a brace as his side avenged that defeat. In what marked his 89th international appearance, the former Everton marksman latched on to Robbie Kruse' pinpoint cross to open the scoring, before making it 3-0 with a trademark header before the break to extend his national team scoring tally to 47 and set the hosts on the road to a convincing victory.


Did you know?

Tehran stood out among the matchday's venue cities with three matches staged in Iran's capital. While Team Melli entertained Oman at the Azadi Stadium, Iraq and Afghanistan welcomed Vietnam and Singapore in the city's PAS Stadium and Takhti Stadium respectively.


What they said

"I should thank my players as well the coaching staff for the victory (against Qatar). We had just 19 days to prepare the last two games but the whole team did well in achieving our goal. We also owe thanks to our clubs where the players have made good progress and development," China interim coach Gao Hongbo


Closing matchday results

29 March

Group A
United Arab Emirates 1-1 Saudi Arabia
Palestine 7-0 Timor-Leste

Group B
Australia 5-1 Jordan
Tajikistan 0-1 Kyrgyzstan

Group C
China PR 2-0 Qatar
Maldives 4-2 Bhutan

Group D
Iran 2-0 Oman
India 1-2 Turkmenistan

Group E
Japan 5-0 Syria
Afghanistan 2-1 Singapore

Group F
Iraq 1-0 Vietnam

Group G
Lebanon 1-1 Myanmar

Group H
Uzbekistan 1-0 Bahrain
Philippines 3-2 Korea DPR