Tiny Bhutan pulled off a giant shock in Sri Lanka as Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ got underway, while Timor-Leste and Brunei Darussalam also recorded upsets over Mongolia and Chinese Taipei respectively.
With Cambodia, India and Yemen winning comfortably, FIFA.comreviews the first round, first-leg action.
India 2-0 Nepal
Goals: Sunil Chetri 53, 71
The forward scored twice in the second half as India saw off Nepal. The result saw the hosts live up to their tag as the strongest of the 12 sides involved in the first round, and left them with a clear mental edge heading into the return leg in Kathmandu in five days’ time. Having won ten out of the teams’ 13 previous meetings, Stephen Constantine's hosts were the first to attack, with Robin Singh coming close to opening the scoring on 13 minutes. The Bengaluru FC striker then saw his rasping left-footer sail over as the two sides finished the first half goalless. The breakthrough came eight minutes after the restart, when talisman Chhetri slotted past onrushing goalkeeper Kiran Limbu. It was one-way traffic in India’s favour thereafter, and though Jack Stefanowski's visitors defended gallantly, they could not prevent Chhetri doubling the advantage.
The other attractions
In the earliest game played, Timor-Leste routed Mongolia 4-1 at home courtesy of a pair of quick-fire goals in either half. The Portuguese-speaking nation took a 2-0 lead inside just seven minutes, with Indonesia-based forward Chiquito do Carmo completing a brace in a space of three minutes. Rodrigo Silva would make it 3-0 on 84 minutes to put the game beyond the visitors' doubts, before substitute Jairo Neto put the icing to the cake a minute later, leaving Batmonkhiin Erkhembayari's 87th-minute effort as a mere consolation.
Cambodia showed visiting Macau no mercy, netting three unanswered goals. The visitors showed the resilience that had recently seen them pull off a 2-2 draw against Singapore, holding their hosts to a goalless first half. What was a tightly contested match was, however, tipped into Cambodia’s favour once midfielder Chan Vathanaka was substituted in shortly after the restart. The 21-year-old broke the deadlock on 64 minutes before doubling the lead nine minutes from time. Khoun Laboravy wrapped up the triumph with a stoppage-time strike as the south-east Asians registered only their second victory out of 17 qualifiers.
Tshering Dorji, 19, wrote his name into football folklore, scoring the only goal six minutes from time as Bhutan produced the matchday's biggest surprise in Sri Lanka. All the more significant was the fact that the Himalayan kingdom – the bottom side on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking – were making their World Cup qualifying debut. Chokey Nima's visitors had to overcome the home supporters, the contrasting weather conditions and their strong rivals as they brought their five-match losing streak against the Islanders to a close.
A first-half Adi Said goal proved enough for visiting Brunei to pull off an encouraging win in Chinese Taipei. Brunei had lost 5-0 to the same opponents in a friendly a few years ago, but the 24-year-old headed home a dipping cross from Fakharazzi Hassan to ensure an unforeseen outcome.
The matchday was rounded off with Yemen prevailing against Pakistan. Abdulwasea Al Matari struck inside three minutes to put the hosts ahead with what proved the matchday's fastest goal, and Mohammed Boqshan doubled their advantage after the interval. Denmark-based Hassan Bashir pulled one back for the visitors from the spot on 67 minutes, but Ala Al Sasi restored the Yemenis' two-goal lead two minutes later to make sure there wouldn't be big scares in the closing stages.
In an opening round decorated by little-known stars, one big name made waves: Indian icon Chetri. The former Kansas City Wizards marksman proved his prolificacy has yet to desert him despite being 30 years old, opening the scoring with a left-footer before adding another by lashing home with his right foot. He would have completed a treble with a spot-kick had it not been for an acrobatic save by Nepal keeper Limbu Kumar.
3 - Three sides clinched their first-ever wins, while a trio of attackers finished the first leg as joint top-scorers with two goals apiece.
What they said
Stephen Constantine, India coach: “Our players have really worked hard, but the tie is far from over. I am never pleased as a coach. My intention is to build a team for the future which can serve Indian football for the next five-six years. The last time I was here, we tried to do the same.”
Asian Zone, Round 1 resultsIndia 2-0 Nepal
Yemen 3-1 Pakistan
Timor-Leste 4-1 Mongolia
Cambodia 3-0 Macau
Chinese Taipei 0-1 Brunei Darussalam
Sri Lanka 0-1 Bhutan