Saudi Arabia, Japan and Thailand progressed on the penultimate matchday, joining Qatar and Korea Republic in the next round. In the process, the Saudis and Japanese both won to secure at least a place among the four best runners-up. The Thais, for their part, sealed progression as clear group winners after they held hosts Iraq to a 2-2 draw.

Comfortable home victories also saw Australia and Iran maintain their leads heading into the decisive closing meetings with Jordan and Oman, respectively, both of whom came out on top in their own matches. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, saw off Philippines 1-0 at home to move to the top of their group at the expense of an inactive Korea DPR side and elsewhere, China PR, under newly-appointed coach Gao Hongbo, moved into a strong position after beating Maldives 4-0 at home. takes a closer look at Thursday’s action across Asia.

The match
Iraq 2-2 Thailand
Goals: Mahdi Kamil 66, Koravit Namwiset 90+5 (OG); Mongkol Thosakrai 39, Adisak Kraisorn 86

In what was a pulsating decider, the visiting Thailand scored three times - though one an own goal - as they drew 2-2 against a desperate Iraq. The point proved to be crucially significant as it sealed their progression to the continent's final qualifying round-the first time since they made it to the same stage on the road to Korea/Japan 2002.

Like their first encounter, the match, which was played at the PAS Stadium in Tehran, saw the Iraqis dominate but Thailand countered through so choice forays forward. Mongkol Tossakrai put the visitors ahead but Mahdi Kamil drew the hosts level 20 minutes after the re-start. With four minutes left, Adisak Kraisorn restored the Thais' lead with a tap-in. There was, however, late drama with Ali Adnan's powerful drive deflected home by Koravit Namwiset for an own goal, leaving the teams with a point apiece - though not dramatic enough to save Iraq's hopes of topping the table. In the group’s other match, with little to play for but pride, Vietnam came from a goal down to dispatch Chinese Taipei 4-1 at home.

The other attractions
Mohammed Al Sahlawi and Taisir Al Jassim were on target in the second half as Group A leaders Saudi Arabia dispatched Malaysia 2-0 at home. With 19 points from seven outings, the Green Falcons progressed to the next round with a game to spare. In what was a must-win, United Arab Emirates undid Palestine by the identical scoreline, also at home, with Ismail Al Hammadi and Ahmed Khalil scoring on either side of half-time.

Group B's Australia and Jordan produced the matchday’s biggest wins as they both head to their meeting in prolific form. In the process, Nathan Burns and Tom Rogic each completed a brace as the Socceroos thumped Tajikistan 7-0 at home and responding to the massive scoreline a short while later, Jordan fired eight unanswered goals past Bangladesh at home with in-form striker Hamza Al Dardour hitting a hat-trick. 

Group C's China PR thumped Maldives 4-0 at home as they briefly kept their slim hopes alive. The victory saw Team Dragon return to second place at the expense of Hong Kong, who lost to the already-qualified Qatar 2-0 in Doha. Leading Hong Kong on goal difference, Gao Hongbo's side must defeat the Qataris in the closing game and hope for other results to go their way.

Ehsan Haji Safi completed a brace as Iran tightened their grip on Group D with a 4-0 win against India at home. In the other match, Oman were made to sweat against a resilient Guam with their blushes only saved by Ahmed Mubarak's 53rd-minute match-winner. 

There were no surprises in Group E with both Japan and Syria winning comfortably at home. But Japan progressed after demolishing Afghanistan 5-0 at home with enough points to secure their progression as at least one of the four best runners-up. The Syrians, who thrashed Cambodia 6-0, trail by just a point and are hopeful to advance on the closing matchday should they win.

In Group G's only game, Lebanon's hopes of a strong runners-up finish took a blow after losing 1-0 against hosts Korea Republic. The visiting Cedars, level with suspended Kuwait on ten points each, defended gallantly during the entire 90 minutes as they kept the Taeguk Warriors at bay. With the game looking destined for a draw, however, Lee Jeonghyeop tapped in from close range as the Lebanese were deprived a likely point. 

A 1-0 home win against ten-man Philippines saw Uzbekistan leapfrog Korea DPR to the top of Group H. Having won 5-1 away against the same rivals, the Uzbeks entered the return hoping to emulate the previous feat. However, the Uzbeks soon found they were wrong as they were kept at bay in the first half. The hosts heaped on the pressure after the restart and the goal finally came when Changchun Yatai defender Anzur Ismailov headed home on the stroke of hour.

The player
A predator's qualities are to live up to the expectations when it matters most. This was just the case of Uzbekistan forward Alexander Geynrikh, who came off the bench to put his side ahead in the decisive 3-1 home win against Korea DPR in their last outing. Unfit to play the entire game, the 31-year-old Ordabasy forward continued to shine in his new super-sub role. With Philippines goalkeeper Neil Etheridge looking unbeatable, Geynrikh was brought on after the restart. It took him only ten minutes to find the chink in the armour, flashing a vicious pass into the area which was duly met by Ismail's head. 

Did you know?
The matchday featured a quartet of new faces in the dugout in China PR boss Gao Hongbo, Jordan coach Harry Redknapp, Oman tactician Juan Ramon Lopez Caro and Vietnam's Nguyen Huu Thang, all of whom were appointed to revive the fortunes of their respective teams. The managerial switches seemingly paid off with all four coaches getting their tenure off to a winning start.

What they said
"These games can become difficult and we knew they would sit off (in defence). But having such a quick start and scoring the goal it was just a matter of time before they capitulated. We missed a fair few opportunities as well which we spoke at half-time about finishing it off and to their credit the players did," Australia head coach Ange Postecoglou

Penultimate matchday results
24 March

Group A
Saudi Arabia 2-0 Malaysia
United Arab Emirates 2-0 Palestine

Group B
Australia 7-0 Tajikistan
Jordan 8-0 Bangladesh

Group C
China PR 4-0 Maldives
Qatar 2-0 Hong Kong

Group D
Iran 4-0 India
Oman 1-0 Guam

Group E
Japan 5-0 Afghanistan
Syria 6-0 Cambodia

Group F
Vietnam 4-1 Chinese Taipei
Iraq 2-2 Thailand

Group G
Korea Republic 1-0 Lebanon

Group H
Uzbekistan 1-0 Philippines
Bahrain 3-0 Yemen