Hard-fought victories and surprises defined matchday 6 as fans were treated to a wonderful night of football on Thursday across Asia. Notably, Group A leaders Iran cemented their place at the top by overcoming hosts Qatar 1-0, while second-placed Korea Republic were dealt a solitary-goal stunner in China PR. Syria, for their part, produced a similar surprise by edging third-placed Uzbekistan by the identical scoreline in dramatic fashion.
There were, however, no big surprises in Group B, where both joint-leaders Saudi Arabia and Japan prevailed in Thailand and United Arab Emirates. Australia conceded an early lead to draw against Iraq in Tehran, their third draw on the trot, a result which extended their gap on the leading duo to three points. Join FIFA.com as we look at the action in detail.
China PR 1-0 Korea Republic
Goals: Yu Dabao 34'
Group A strugglers China PR, under new coach Marcello Lippi, pulled off a major upset by seeing off Korea Republic at home. The spirited win, their first in this third round, saw them move out of the bottom and leapfrog Qatar into fifth. Forward Yu Dabao was the hosts' hero, timing his run to a corner to precision to glance a beautiful header home. The goal ended Team Dragon's 374-minute goal-drought this campaign, and sealed their first-ever victory against the neighbouring nemesis in a major international competition. The Chinese will travel to Iran with high hopes of springing another surprise. Uli Stielike's visitors will, meanwhile, come under pressure to bounce back against Syria five days later.
The other attractions
With the South Koreans disappointing, front-runners Iran consolidated their lead with a solitary-goal win against Qatar in Doha. Jorge Fossati's side attacked first, but Carlos Queiroz's visitors gradually exerted their authority. The breakthrough came seven minutes into the second half when Mehdi Taremi slotted home the only goal. With the victory, *Team Melli *move four points clear of second-placed Korea Republic and are well placed to seal one of the group's two qualifying spots.
Earlier in the day, Omar Kharbin's injury-time spot-kick proved the difference as Syria stunned Uzbekistan 1-0. Having drawn against Iran and Korea Republic, the Syrians demonstrated their trademark resilience throughout the entire 90 minutes by keeping the visitors at bay. The dramatic moment came one minute into added time when Egor Krimets brought down Firas Al Khatib in the area, and Kharbin kept his cool from the resulting penalty to seal victory which moved the Syrians within just two points from second-placed Korea Republic, whom they will face on Tuesday.
It was a different story in Group B, however, with joint-leaders Saudi Arabia and Japan prevailing respectively. Saudi Arabia comfortably won 3-0 in Bangkok as they maintained their slight lead over Japan on goal difference. Striking-ace Mohammed Al Sahlawi opened the scoring on 26 minutes, running on to Nawaf Al Abid's through ball to slot home his 15th goal of the competition, drawing him level with tournament top-marksman Ahmed Khalil. With six minutes left in the match the visitors doubled their lead through Tanaboon Kesarat's own goal before substitute Salman Almuwashar put icing on the cake with an injury-time strike.
Japan avenged their first-leg 2-1 loss with a 2-0 victory in United Arab Emirates. Yuya Kubo had a hand in both goals. The Gent striker opened the scoring inside 13 minutes before turning provider by setting up Yasuyuki Konno to seal the tie. Elsewhere, Australia's winless streak continued as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Iraq. Ange Postecoglou's visitors went ahead through Mathew Leckie’s first-half header. The Socceroos would go on to enjoy the lion's share of possession after the restart but the desperate Iraqis hit back hard. Their efforts paid off when substitute Ahmed Yasin salvaged the point with a late strike, which kept their slim qualification hopes alive.
Player to watch
While Syria have impressed in their debut third round campaign, their fans are aware that the team would have not gone this far had it not been for the brilliant performances of free-scoring Omar Kharbin. In a sense, this competition has seen the 23-year-old's emergence on the Asian scene. The promising player, plying his trade with Saudi giants Al Hilal, was on target eight times in the previous stage to fire his side to the third round. Tonight, he showed his composure and confidence by grabbing the match-winner with an audacious Panenka-style penalty against the Uzbeks.
Did you know?
Syria may be the team with the least goals scored during the third round—they have so far scored just twice from six games, a goal shy of even China and winless Thailand. However, they have proved to be one of the most efficient sides, as their two strikes combined with their gallant defence has led to eight points.
What they said
"The win (against Korea Republic) keeps our hopes alive. Any result other than three points would make our campaign meaningless. There are several areas in which we should improve and take care and this was just a first step. The time we are given is limited, and we have to work against time to prepare for the next game (against Iran)," China PR coach Marcello Lippi.
Matchday 6 results
*Group A: *
China PR 1-0 Korea Republic
Qatar 0-1 Iran
Syria 1-0 Uzbekistan
*Group B: *
Thailand 0-3 Saudi Arabia
Iraq 1-1 Australia
United Arab Emirates 0-2 Japan