Japan awaken from slumber while Iran, South Korea enhance credentials despite draw
Gabriel Tan
October 12, 2021
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With enticing clashes between a quartet of giants headlining Match Day 4 of the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it was no surprise that matches proved to be a pivotal round of games.

The evening's action kicked off with Japan grinding out a desperately-needed 2-1 triumph over Group B rivals Australia, before Group A's leading duo Iran and South Korea shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

- Australia's loss to Japan a missed opportunity

With four other matches also taking place on Tuesday, we dive deeper into what the latest set of results mean for the World Cup qualification picture in Asia.

Japan rise from the ashes to end Australia's record-breaking streak

Ahead of their clash with Australia, alarm bells were starting to ring for Japan and it was hardly premature even if the campaign was just three rounds old.

Defeat at Saitama Stadium 2002 could have potentially seen them fall nine points behind two legitimate contenders in the Socceroos and Saudi Arabia in Group B.

Instead, the Samurai Blue finally delivered a performance befitting their status as one of the continent's leading sides, even if they had Aziz Behich's 86th-minute own-goal to thank for the 2-1 win.

Ao Tanaka, who joined German outfit Fortuna Dusseldorf earlier in the summer, weighed in with an all-action display in midfield from the moment he opened the scoring after eight minutes. Junya Ito -- another of the changes coach Hajime Moriyasu made to the eleven that started in last week's loss to Saudi Arabia -- was a livewire down the right wing.

The result ended Australia's record-breaking streak of 11 wins. While Australia's display was not without its positives, the match was a lost opportunity to extend their lead as well delivering a psychological blow to their rivals.

The impetus will now be on the Japanese to produce a run similar to their opponents' -- starting with the next round of qualifiers in November -- to claw their way back into the top two and enhance their push for automatic World Cup qualification.

Iran, South Korea will take some stopping despite sharing spoils

Although there was ultimately no separating Iran and South Korea, both teams will likely be satisfied to come away with a point.

Having emerged as the last-gasp match-winner for South Korea in last week's victory over Syria, Tottenham man Son Heung-min once again came to the fore when he opened the scoring three minutes after halftime with a clinical finish after racing onto a visionary through-pass by Lee Jae-sung.

Nonetheless, with 14 minutes remaining, Sardar Azmoun broke free inside the area and hung up a ball that was headed home by Alireza Jahanbakhsh to force the draw for the Iranians.

The two continental heavyweights showed plenty of quality -- both offensively and defensively -- throughout the 90 minutes to match each other.

More importantly, Son, Lee, Azmoun and Jahanbakhsh, as well as a host of others involved in the contest such as Hwang Hee-chan and Mehdi Taremi, can all lay claim to being some of Asia's biggest stars plying their trade in Europe.

None of Group A's other four sides can boast such a stellar cast, which only bodes well for both South Korea and Iran -- even if neither could claim the victory on Tuesday.

Following creditable start, Vietnam take step backwards

Despite losing their opening three qualifiers in the third round, Vietnam could still their heads up high after a series of spirited displays, which included narrow single-goal defeats to heavyweights Australia and Saudi Arabia.

Not once were any of the defeats due to factors other than just coming up against higher-quality opposition -- until Tuesday's 3-1 loss to Oman, which saw them put in an uncharacteristically error-riddled performance.

Coming back after they conceded a penalty following a needless foul inside the box by Ho Tan Tai, with Oman's Mohsin Al-Khaldi blazing over from 12 yards, it looked as though the Vietnam would muster a first win when Nguyen Tien Linh fired them in front.

But Issam Al-Sabhi then equalised for the hosts and Vietnam goalkeeper Nguyen Van Toan allowed an Al-Khaldi corner to sail straight in. Another careless challenge by Do Duy Manh paved the way for Salaah Al-Yahyaei to put the result beyond doubt with his side's second spot-kick of the evening.

In Vietnam's defence, their players came into the international break without regular competition as their domestic league continues to be suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the individual errors, which led to a fourth consecutive defeat of the campaign, has wiped away some of the previous credit Park Hang-seo's charges accumulated.

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