Japan are back, Saudi Arabia maintain their perfect start
Adwaidh Rajan
September 7, 2021
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Iran, Saudi Arabia and Australia made it two wins from two games while Japan and South Korea bounced back in the third round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Asia on Tuesday.

While Iran thrashed Iraq 3-0 to take a two-point lead in Group A, Saudi and Australia go level on six points in Group B after 1-0 victories against Oman and Vietnam. Japan defeated China by the same score to record their first points while the South Korea also edged out Lebanon 1-0 for their first win.

With September's qualification campaign now wrapped up, we take a look at the talking points from each of the six games that were played out on Matchday 2 of the Asian Qualifiers.

Japan back on track, while China already off pace

Japan were without Hiroki Sakai and Takumi Minamino at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Tuesday, but they hardly had to break a sweat to overcome a rudderless China and add the first points to their third-round tally.

After a shock defeat to Oman, Hajime Moriyasu demanded a response from Samurai Blue and his players delivered. A Japanese goal was a long time coming as Takefusa Kubo and Yuya Osako both struck the woodwork before the latter broke the deadlock in the 40th minute.

The margin of the win could have been greater, as China rarely threatened. A second defeat in the final round sees their World Cup hopes fade just two games in.

China now have an uphill task in the third round as they find themselves six points behind Australia and Saudi Arabia in Group B. They will need a miracle to fight their way back into contention, but their showing so far suggests they are ill-equipped for such a task.

Saudi Arabia prove they are a threat to Japan and Australia

Saudi Arabia maintained a perfect start to the third round in their hard-fought win over Oman at Muscat's Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.

Oman, who had that upset over Japan on Thursday, again proved tough to beat. But the Green Falcons found the opener when Salman Al Faraj's ball over the defence was backheeled by Fahad Al Muwallad onto the path of Saleh Al-Shehri who struck the winner just before the break.

Saudi had goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais to thank as he denied Branko Ivankovic's men an equaliser late on. With two wins in the space of five days, Herve Renard's side have proved they are more than capable of challenging for a World Cup berth.

Standing between them and back-to-back appearances in the world championship will be Japan and Australia. But a positive result against Japan in their next game in October could mean they will have an upper hand against at least one of those challengers in the Road to Qatar.

Vietnam brave again, but Australia make it 10 out of 10

ASEAN champions Vietnam were disappointed again as Graham Arnold's Australia edged them by a goal at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi. The first-ever international meeting between the sides was decided by a 43rd-minute header from Rhyan Grant.

The Socceroos notched their 10th straight win in the World Cup Qualifiers and also ended Vietnam's 17-game unbeaten streak at My Dinh. The biggest controversy was a penalty for the hosts that was turned down after a VAR review.

Nguyen Phong Hong Duy's shot hit Grant's elbow 28 minutes in, but the referee decided the handball was inadvertent after looking at the pitch-side monitor. The Sydney FC right-back later rubbed salt into Vietnam's wound by scoring his first international goal.

Vietnam went neck and neck against a World Cup regular and could have come away with a point on a different day. They restricted the Aussies to a single shot on target. Nguyen Quang Hai scuffed a shot early on and Ha Duc Chinh hit the side netting with 13 minutes left to play.

The result meant more frustration for Park Hang-seo and his side who were beaten by Saudi Arabia in their opener after going down to 10 men. Though they deserved to get something out of both fixtures so far, the reality is a bitter pill to swallow for the Golden Star Warriors.

South Korea must level up despite first win over Lebanon

Paulo Bento's South Korea are finally up and running in the qualifiers after a second-half strike from Kwon Chang-hoon was enough to down a sturdy Lebanon at the Suwon World Cup Stadium.

The Taeguk Warriors needed a positive result after a frustrating goalless draw against Iraq in their Group A opener at Seoul, but their win against the Cedars on still left a lot to be desired.

The South Koreans were handicapped without Al Duhail midfielder Nam Tae-hee and Tottenham attacker Son Heung-min going into the Lebanon clash, but new Wolves signing Hwang Hee-chan ably filled in for their talismanic skipper on the left flank.

Al Ahed goalkeeper Mostafa Matar produced save after save to keep things even in the first half, but Kwon turned in a low cross from Hwang for the winner at the hour mark. South Korea survived a scare at the end to add three points to their tally, but they will need to be much sharper when they resume their campaign against Syria and Iran in October.

UAE convert chances to reignite World Cup hopes

Bert van Marwijk's UAE were held to another stalemate in the third round after their goalless draw to Lebanon was followed by a 1-1 draw to Syria in their second outing at the King Abdullah II Stadium in Amman.

The Emiratis boast a side that had the fifth-highest goals tally in the second round and the top scorer in Ali Mabkhout with 11 goals, but the Whites have been uncharacteristically wasteful in the final stage of qualification so far.

A goal for Mabkhout had given UAE the lead as early as the 11th minute, but Nizar Mahrous' Qasioun Eagles struck back through Mahmoud Al Baher who capitalised on a defensive error in the 64th minute.

UAE's front three comprising Fabio de Lima, Mabkhout and Caio Canedo missed chances to secure a win as their path to Qatar 2022 is fast turning into a treacherous ride.

Iran make light work of Iraq

Iran had already made themselves favourites in the pool after recording Group A's only win on Matchday 1. They now have an even more impressive record as they crushed Iraq 3-0 in Doha on Tuesday.

It was Dick Advocaat's men who made the job far easier for Team Melli as their defence went to sleep on multiple occasions to give away all three points. Alireza Jahanbakhsh opened the scoring in the third minute before Mehdi Taremi doubled the advantage with 20 minutes left to play.

Substitute Ali Gholizadeh made it 'game, set and match' for Iran as they cemented their top spot in the group even as their head coach Dragan Skocic continued his recovery from COVID-19 away from the field. Iraq, on the other hand, will need to find more discipline and organisation if they plan to put up a challenge in...
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