Three sides stood out on Matchday 2 of Asia's third qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with Australia, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan all following up their opening victories with another three points.
Japan, meanwhile, bounced back from a surprise defeat to win 2-0 in Thailand while China PR and Syria grabbed their first point after holding Iran and Korea Republic to goalless draws. Despite putting in some brilliant displays, 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts Qatar were left ruing missed opportunities as the slid to a home defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan. FIFA.com takes a closer look.
Iraq 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Goals: Mohannad Abdulraheem 18; Nawaf Al Abid, 81 (PEN) 88 (PEN)
Nawaf Al Abid emerged a two-goal hero as Saudi Arabia battled from behind to down Iraq 2-1, their second consecutive win to cement their place at the top of Group B alongside Australia. The playmaker continued to showcase his ability as a spot-kick specialist by converting a pair of penalties in the space of eight minutes, having struck the winner from 12 yards against Thailand in the opener. Iraq, playing hosts at the Shah Alam Stadium in neutral Malaysia due to security concerns at home, went ahead on 18 minutes when Mohannad Abdulraheem beat a pair of defenders to slot home. They would keep the lead intact until 81 minutes when Saad Neteq's late foul on Hassan Fallatah in the area turned the game on its head. From the resulting penalty, Al Abid drew the visitors level before converting another he earned himself to round off the triumph two minutes from time.
The other attractions
Second-half substitute Tim Cahill came off the bench to score the only goal as Australia emerged on top against hosts United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. In what was Group B's top-of-the-table clash, the hosts entered their second outing aiming to pulling off another surprise having stunned Japan in the opener. However, it was the visitors that prevailed in a game they largely controlled. Ange Postecoglou's Socceroos could have opened the scoring earlier when Aaron Mooy saw his effort bounce back off the woodwork just after the restart. But the Australians weren't to be denied as Cahill was on hand to tap in Brad Smith's perfect pass to score what was his ninth goal of this campaign as they stayed perfect.
Genki Haraguchi and Takuma Asano scored in each half as Japan put their campaign back on track with a 2-0 away victory in Thailand. Despite being dealt a 2-1 stunner at home against UAE, the Japanese disproved soe of their doubters by dominating the second outing from start to finish. In fact, they would have won by a greater margin had it not been for the excellent keeping form of hosts’ custodian Kawin Thamsatchanan. Haraguchi headed the visitors in front on 17 minutes before Asano sealed the triumph a quarter of an hour from time as the Samurai Blue rekindled their hopes with a deserved win.
Egor Krimets headed home the match-winning goal four minutes from time as Uzbekistan downed Qatar 1-0 in Doha. The home side began the brighter, desperate to revive their fortunes having lost to Iran away in the opener. The Qataris may have fashioned out more, better chances but the well-organised visitors proved just equal to them as they kept the rivals at bay. Jose Daniel Carreno's hosts had a glorious chance when Boualem Khoukhi rattled the cross-bar with a scissor kick late in the second half. However, it was the Uzbeks who came to the fore against the run of play and once again super-sub Alexander Geynrikh was involved, delivering a free-kick to perfectly find Krimets' head.
Iran played out a goalless draw in China as they maintained undefeated in the qualifying campaign. Carlos Queiroz's visitors underlined their status as Asia's top-ranked side in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Rankings by register 17 shots to the hosts’ 2, only to fail to find the back of the net. Team Melli had the better of the first half through their aggressive play with Sardar Azmoun coming close with a glancing header. Having weathered the rivals' storm, though, Gao Hongbo's side pressed hard after the restart with Wu Lei repeatedly causing havoc in the area. Iran’s Mehdi Torabi forced goalkeeper Gu Chao into a five save while Zhang Xizhe stung the hands of Alireza Beiranvand at the other end as the game ended 0-0.
Korea Republic could fare no better, playing out a goalless draw against Syria, who – like Iraq – saw their game played in Malaysia. The visitors enjoyed the lion's share of possession throughout but without Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Son Heungmin, who returned early to his club, they carved out few clear-cut chances. In the opposite third, the Syrians threatened with on the counter while doing whatever they could to keep the visitors at bay. Their resilience paid off as they registered the first point in this stage of the campaign.
Having broken his international duck by scoring in a 7-2 defeat of Bulgaria in June, Takuma Asano was again on target by sealing a much-anticipated victory for Japan. It proved a match during which the 21-year-old on-loan VfB Stuttgart striker truly showcased his predatory gifts. A surprise inclusion in the Japanese line-up, Asano came as the replacement for Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki. And the striking prodigy duly lived up to the expectations, keeping his cool to bury a shot past the keeper for the match-winning goal
Did you know?
A pair of hopeful teenagers impressed during the draw between China PR and Iran despite failing to find the target. Russia-based Saeid Ezatolahi provided Iran with drive from the midfield and, meanwhile, China PR had their first sight on goal when Dutch-based forward Zhang Yuning flashed a powerful drive wide.
What they said
"The draw (against China PR) was disappointing because we were the dominant side and we created far more opportunities. We planned on taking the lead by playing a pressing game but our rivals made it difficult for us through their defensive and counter-attacking tactics. It was a hard-fought draw so for us and it is acceptable to return with an away point," Iran coach Carlos Queiroz
Matchday 2 results
Syria 0-0 Korea Republic
China PR 0-0 Iran
Qatar 0-1 Uzbekistan
United Arab Emirates 0-1 Australia
Iraq 1-2 Saudi Arabia
Thailand 0-2 Japan