Trio edge closer as Australia stumble
Iran and Korea Republic cemented top-two places with back-to-back victories in Group A
Saudi Arabia moved four points clear at the summit of Group B
Japan leapfrogged Australia to second place
There were mixed results for Asia's 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ representatives on matchdays 5 and 6 in the continent's third round of qualifying for Qatar 2022. In Group A, IR Iran and Korea Republic consolidated their places among the top two with back-to-back victories, furthering distancing themselves from the chasing pack with four games left.
In Group B, meanwhile, Saudi Arabia moved four points clear at the top following picking up four away points while Australia floundered making do with a pair of draws. Japan, for their part, registered a pair of solitary-goal wins to leapfrog the Socceroos into second place.
Elsewhere, United Arab Emirates earned their first win in Lebanon and China PR came up with two draws to salvage a glimmer of hope. Iraq and Syria picked up a point each and debutants Vietnam remain rooted at the bottom without a point.
Results of matchday 5 & 6
Group A 11 November: Korea Republic 1-0 United Arab Emirates; Lebanon 1-2 Iran; Iraq 1-1 Syria 16 November: Syria 0-3 Iran; Lebanon 0-1 United Arab Emirates; Iraq 0-3 Korea Republic Group B 11 November: Australia 0-0 Saudi Arabia; Vietnam 0-1 Japan; China PR 1-1 Oman 16 November: China PR 1-1 Australia; Vietnam 0-1 Saudi Arabia; Oman 0-1 Japan
Oman 0-1 Japan (Junya Ito 81) Japan arrived in Muscat with revenge on their mind having suffered a stunning 1-0 defeat at home in the opener. Hajime Moriyasu's visitors pushed forward from the outset with both Yuya Osako and Junya Ito looking dangerous upfront, but Branko Ivankovic's side defended gallantly with disciplined play and looked threatening on the break.
Japan heaped on the pressure after the restart as they pushed for the opener but Oman proved they bore a threat when Arshad Al Alawi flashed a drive just wide of the post. As the clock clicked to the end, second-half substitute Kaoru Mitoma cut into the area to send a cross across the goalmouth for an unmarked Ito, who tapped in to seal three precious points.
Mabkhout the hero United Arab Emirates finally registered their first win in the third round, winning 1-0 away in Lebanon in a match that the hosts largely dominated. Once again, Ali Mabkhout emerged the visitors' hero, scoring the only goal from the spot five minutes from time as his side won against the run of play. The strike cemented his place as the global top-scorer in qualifying with 14 goals, two goals clear of Wu Lei.
Saudi invincibility The only undefeated team of Group B, Saudi Arabia continued their good run in this campaign picking up four points from two away fixtures. They first held hosts Australia to a goalless draw before prevailing 1-0 in Vietnam with Saleh Al-Shehri heading home the match-winner. Herve Renard's Green Falcons underlined their resolve with the away results and are edging closer to early progression from their group.
Home away from home Despite playing the two home games in United Arab Emirates, China made the Sharjah Stadium something of a home fortress picking up two draws on the trot. Cheered on by a small group of supporters, Li Tie's Team Dragon played out a 1-1 tie against Oman before coming from behind to draw against Australia thanks to Wu Lei’s spot-kick.
Azmoun's heroics Sardar Azmoun came to the rescue as Iran collected a dramatic 2-1 comeback win in Lebanon. Ivan Hasek's hosts were leading 1-0 after 90 minutes but Azmoun prodded home with a stoppage-time strike to draw level. Shortly afterwards, the Russian-based forward saw another effort blocked by a defender but the clearance fell into the path of Ahmad Nourollahi who completed a remarkable victory. Azmoun went on to break the deadlock against Syria to set his side on the path to a 3-0 triumph.
On-song Son Korea Republic Son Heungmin continued his unstoppable form, scoring one and having a hand in another as his side won 3-0 against Iraq in neutral Doha. Despite twice being denied by the post in the previous 1-0 victory against United Arab Emirates, the Tottenham Hotspur doubled their lead against the Iraqis through a spot-kick before providing the pass which led to Jeong Wooyoung’s match-sealing third.
Junya Ito's goalscoring form proved the key as Japan registered crucial back-to-back wins. Despite missing last month’s 1-0 loss in Saudi Arabia through suspension, the Belgium-based attacker then played a full match against Australia. He then impressed against Vietnam scoring the only goal off Takumi Minamino's pass before easing his side's worries by helping seal revenge against Oman.
Did you know?
Leading third-placed United Arab Emirates by ten points, Iran can seal early qualification with three games to spare if they defeat Iraq in the next outing in January and the other results also go their way.