Syria and Singapore put one foot in the third round of Asian Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ following first leg victories over Indonesia and Tajikistan, while the two other ties remain evenly poised with Thailand and Turkmenistan playing out goalless draws with Yemen and Hong Kong respectively.
Syria put the two-legged contest almost out of their opponents reach by winning 4-1 in Indonesia. Al Karama midfielder Firas Issmael put the visiting West Asians in front after 17 minutes, before Mohamed Al Zeno doubled the lead on 34th minute. Budi Sudarsono pulled on back for Indonesia three minutes later only for Zyad Chaabo to restore the two-goal lead for Syria a minute before. Syria went on to dominate the second half with Raja Rafe sealing an emphatic success for coach Fajer Iprahim with a last-minute strike.
Syria may have registered the biggest win but it was the unfancied Singapore who created the biggest surprise with their 2-0 home defeat of Tajikistan, Aleksandar Duric scoring both goals on his debut. At the age of 37, Duric's inclusion in the starting line-up came as a surprise. However, coach Radojko Avramovic's decision paid dividends as Duric underlined why he is the leading marksman in the domestic league with two first half goals.
It was a dream bow for the powerful forward, whose first international goal came after only 24 minutes when he unleashed a low drive outside the box into the Tajikistan goal. He once again sent the 6,600 home supporters into raptures before the interval by nodding home a header pass from Alam Shah from close range.
Having seen his game plan come off, Avramovic was quick to praise Duric: "I played him in a position that suited him most and he has done an excellent job," said the Serb. "He was in a key position to receive and hold the ball for us."
Despite the victory, the experienced coach encouraged the team to keep up the current form in the next game. "Even if we had a big lead today, I would still want the team to score goals when we play away from home next week."
*Wide open * In San'aa, visiting Thailand took a 32nd-minute lead through Sarayoot Chaikamdee but Yemen soon grabbed the equalizer through Ali Al-Nono three minutes from the interval. Both sides squandered a couple of chances in the second half and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
For Thailand coach Chanvit Phalajivin, though, the outcome was positive for his team, who will have home advantage in the return leg.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong failed to breach the rearguard of their guests Turkmenistan and their stalemate has left the tie wide open.
Asian Zone qualifying, second round, first leg results;
*9 November 2007
* Indonesia 1-4 Syria
Singapore 2-0 Tajikistan
Yemen 1-1 Thailand
* Hong Kong 0-0 Turkmenistan