Iran underlined their tag as favourites by emerging 1-0 victors in an eye-catching showdown against Korea Republic at home. The three points saw Team Melli establish a single-point cushion at the summit of Group A. Saudi Arabia of Group B, too, saw off United Arab Emirates 3-0 at home to go two points clear of Australia, who shared the spoils in a 1-1 stalemate with Japan at home.
Elsewhere, both strugglers Iraq and Qatar salvaged a lifeline with their first points after defeating Thailand and Syria at home respectively. China PR were, though, found lacking again losing 2-0 to hosts Uzbekistan which leaves their campaign on the brink. Join FIFA.com as we detail these crunch ties across the continent.
Iran 1-0 Korea Republic (Sardar Azmoun)
After Carlos Queiroz had openly stated his goal of taking Iran to the FIFA World Cup for the second time in a row, the Portuguese manager's ambitions received an immense boost as his side saw off Korea Republic 1-0 at home, with Sardar Azmoun scoring the only goal after 25 minutes. The result maintains his perfect record against the South Koreans, having taken Team Melli to wins both home and away on the road to Brazil 2014. With the three points, Iran cemented their place at the summit of **Group A with Korea Republic slipping into the third place trailing by three points.
The hosts, indeed, dominated largely in what had been anticipated to be an evenly contested game. Even more impressive was the fact that they reduced the visitors' formidable attackers to just one shot during the entire 90 minutes while they produced nine attempts. The breakthrough came when Ramin Rezaeian, surging down the right, picked out an onrushing Azmoun with an inch-perfect cross. The latter made no mistake, slotting home with a left-footed effort to give his side the deserved win.
*The other attractions
*A 2-0 home win against China saw Uzbekistan return to Group A's top two. After a goalless first half during which the hosts produced seven shots only to fail to find the back of the net, the Uzbeks came out with renewed vigour after the restart. Having seen his dangerous cross narrowly missed by teammates, an impressive Eldor Shomurodov set up Marat Bikmaev to open the scoring five minutes into the second half. The visitors hit back, with Wu Lei coming the closest. Cheered on by the home supporters, however, it was the hosts who dominated the proceedings. First Igor Sergeev and then Vitaliy Denisov hit the woodwork as the Uzbeks sought to double the advantage. But they weren't to be denied when Otabek Shukurov's drive was deflected home by Zhang Chengdong.
Captain Hasan Al Haydos scored the only goal from the spot as Qatar registered their first points in this round by defeating Syria 1-0 at home. In what proved to be a scrappy affair, Jorge Fossati's home side came out the brighter side but they had to wait until 38 minutes when Al Haydos converted a penalty which he had earned himself. The Qataris continued their dominance after the restart, carving out a series of chances only to fail to double their lead. For the visitors, Omar Khrbin hit the woodwork five minutes from time as the visitors came close to levelling. Despite the loss, the Syrians remain fourth, a point clear of the Qataris, who leapfrogged China.
In Group B, two quick-fire goals from Fahad Al Muwallad and Nawaf Al Abed in the second half saw Saudi Arabia overcome United Arab Emirates 3-0 at home. Neither side could find the back of the net during an evenly contested first half but the hosts' coach Bert van Marwijk brought on attacker Al Muwallad after the hour mark as they sought the opener. His tactical change paid dividends seven minutes later when the Al Ittihad midfielder broke the deadlock with a powerful volley. Al Abed doubled the lead with his fourth goal of this campaign before Yahia Al Shehri rounded off the resounding triumph with a sublimely-taken free-kick in stoppage-time.
Genki Haraguchi was involved in both goals of the game as Japan conceded their early lead to draw 1-1 against hosts Australia, a result which leaves the visitors still winless against their rivals in World Cup qualifying. Having been on target in each of the past two matches which they both won, the in-form Japan No8 managed to score his third of this campaign inside just five minutes, running onto Keisuke Honda's lovely through pass to put his side ahead. But the Hertha Berlin attacker went from hero to villain seven minutes after the restart when he fouled Tomi Juric in the area. From the resulting penalty, captain Mile Jedinak kept his cool to draw the hosts level. The stalemate sees the Socceroos not only remain undefeated in this campaign but also extend their unbeaten record against the Samurai Blue in World Cup qualifying to seven games.
Elsewhere, Mohanad Abdulraheem bagged all four goals as a determined Iraq recorded their first win of this round in a 4-0 victory over Thailand. The resounding win saw the Iraqis salvage a lifeline but the visiting Thais, with no points from four matches, remain at the bottom of Group B with their hopes further dented. Both sides entered the encounter seeking their first points but the hosts came out the brighter side, Abdulraheem opening the scoring with a header inside seven minutes. After doubling the lead with his second on 25 minutes, the Al Zawraa hotshot completed a hat-trick with a late strike before adding icing to the cake with an injury-time effort.
*In a sense, this qualifying campaign has seen Iraqi forward Mohanad Abdulraheem gradually come of age. Since being named the 2012 AFC Young Player of the Year courtesy of his star performance in that year's AFC U-19 Championship, he has been among Iraq's hottest prospects and World Cup qualifying has presented him the chance to live up to the promise. After scoring the match-winner against Vietnam in the previous stage, the prodigy striker opened the scoring against Saudi Arabia only to see his side concede a pair of late penalties to narrowly lose. However, he showcased his predatory talents against the Thais, running riot to fire his side to their first victory.
*Did you know?
*Among all the 12 head coaches, Carlos Queiroz's tenure is the longest as he has coached Iran since 2011. Second to him is Australia manager Ange Postecoglou, who remains in charge after taking the Socceroos' reins three years ago. They are the only two coaches to have guided their respective sides to Brazil 2014.
What they said
*"My feeling after this game is not regret - maybe some frustration - we have a tactical preparation based on our physical condition and the players did a good job. The opponent's goalkeeper made two great saves. We showed a good physical duel. We were good, organised and disciplined," *Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic
Matchday 4 results
*Iran 1-0 Korea Republic
Uzbekistan 2-0 China
Qatar 1-0 Syria
*Australia 1-1 Japan
Iraq 4-0 Thailand
Saudi Arabia 3-0 United Arab Emirates