AFC 2022 World Cup Qualifiers October Break Begins
The October international football window is underway, and the contesting teams for Asia’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers have been hitting pitches across the continent in a bid to rack up their qualifying points.
Forty-six teams began the race to the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. However, over two previous rounds, the Asian qualifying tournament has whittled those down to twelve - Australia, China, Iraq, Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Vietnam. The remaining twelve teams are now competing in the third and final round.
Round Three began in September, with Matchdays One and Two from ten. The initial break saw some fierce football and quite a few shockers as the surviving squads battled to stake their initial claims in the standings. The current October break also began with some spirited football. And no wonder. Though seven matchdays remain, only four direct slots to Qatar are available - each squad in the final round is already gunning hard for their ticket.
So, who were the movers and shakers on Matchday 3, October's opening day?
The final twelve squads have been drawn into two groups of six to play in a round-robin of home and away matchdays from September 2021 to March 2022. The top two teams from each group (A&B) will qualify for the 2022 competition. The third-placed teams will face off to earn another chance to enter the World Cup competition via the intercontinental playoffs in June 2022.
The October window opening day kicked off on the 7th, with six matches. At the start of the opening day, Iran led Group A on six points, with South Korea close behind on four points. The UAE took third place on two points, while Syria, Lebanon and Iraq finished the break on one point each. Group B’s top positions were held by Australia and Saudi Arabia, both on six points. Oman, after a surprise win over Japan, sat in third on three points. Japan, also on three, held fourth place. Vietnam and China were at the bottom of the table, both on zero points.
The results for each group following the recent matchday are as follows:
|OpponentsSouth Korea vs Syria||VenueAnsan Wa Stadium, South Korea||Results2 - 1|
|OpponentsIraq vs Lebanon||Venue*Khalifa International Stadium, Qatar||Results0 - 0|
|OpponentsUAE vs Iran||VenueZabeel Stadium, UEA||Results2 - 1|
|OpponentsSaudi Arabia vs Japan||VenueKing Abdullah Sports City Stadium, Saudi Arabia||Results1 - 0|
|OpponentsChina vs Vietnam||Venue*Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah, UAE||Results3 - 2|
|OpponentsAustralia vs Oman||Venue*Khalifa International Stadium, Qatar||Results3 - 1|
Iran stayed at the top of Group A, taking nine points from three matches, with a 1-0 defeat over the UAE. The game was a tough test for the Iranians as the Emirati team fought to improve their position in the standings. However, despite the UAE's spirited performance in the first half and plenty of pace in the early second half, the opening goal from Iran's Mehdi Taremi in the 70th minute seemed to unravel the home team's confidence. In the final twenty minutes, Iran dominated and blew the UAE's chances of equalising out of the water. At the end of the day, the UAE remained in third place on two points.
South Korea beat Syria in a dramatic, last-minute 2-1 win. Despite a wasteful first half for the Koreans as numerous opportunities hit the wood or went wide, Hwang In-beom finally opened the scoring in the 48th minute. The Syrians equalised with a goal from Omar Khribin in the 84th minute, hoping to share the points for a draw. However, Korea's Son Heung-min's shot in the 89th minute hit the back of the net to take all three points and keep the squad firmly in second place. The win wasn't a walk in the park for the Korean's; they had to toil against a tough opponent. Despite ceding the majority of possession, the Syrians seriously threatened the Korean goalkeeper on numerous occasions. However, the Syrian team remains in last place on one point for all their efforts.
Iraq and Lebanon each took a point for a goalless draw at the end of their head-to-head. The match was hard-fought but yielded nothing either way. Lebanon was dominant in the first half, making several goal attempts and keeping pressure on the Iraqi keeper. However, they couldn't get past Iraq's solid defence. The Iraqis entered the second half with more pace. The squad found the back of the net on one occasion, but the shot was deemed offside. Any other only genuine attempts went wide. By holding Iraq to a draw, Lebanon moved up into fourth place on the table. Iraq, meanwhile, dropped into fifth.
Australia achieved a record-breaking win over Oman in Qatar. Their 3-1 win saw them become the first nation to register 11-straight wins in a single FIFA qualifying event. The match itself was the proverbial game of two halves. An early opener from the Aussies in the first 9 minutes spurred the Omanis into action. The team more than matched anything the Australians threw at them and scored the equaliser in the 28th. However, the Socceroos came out after the interval and showed their superiority and experience. The squad from down under quickly took control of the match and booted home two more goals to take the game and stay at the top of the standings on nine points from nine. Oman maintained their third-place position.
Saudi Arabia and Japan took to the field near Jeddah to do battle. The Japanese team were on paper the favourites as one of Asia's top team's and with a squad of superior players. However, Japan had a poor start to the competition with a loss against Oman and scoring just a single goal against China, and Saudi had the home advantage. The teams were relatively evenly matched on the day, and both consistently harassed each other's keeper. But, in the end, Saudi's Firas al-Buraikan slipped one in in the 71st minute, which resulted in the match's only goal. Saudi stayed in second on nine points, while Japan moved into third place after Oman's loss to Australia.
China and Vietnam also fought hard for the win, and when it came, it was a dramatic last-minute victory. The first half was a relatively quiet affair as the teams probed each other's defences. The second half kicked off the action. China's Zhang Yuning opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, following up with another shot on target from Wu Lei in the 75th. However, a spirited Vietnam hit back with an 80th-minute goal from Ho Tan Tei, then another in the dying minute off Nguyen Tien Linh's boot. However, Vietnam's hopes of sharing the points for a draw were smashed by Lei with another score in extra time. Vietnam sits in last place, China in fifth.
At the end of the first day, the standings for each group stack up as follows:
|TeamSouth Korea||Points7||Goal Difference2|
|TeamUnited Arab Emirates||Points2||Goal Difference-1|
|TeamSaudi Arabia||Points9||Goal Difference4|
A further six games are to be held on October 12th, Matchday 4.
In Group A, Iran will take on nearest rival, South Korea, who will be hoping for a win over the Iranians to put them in first place. Lebanon will face off against Syria. A win for Lebanon, the group's minnows, would push them even further up the standings, especially if the UAE fall to Iraq, who have beaten or drawn with the Emirati team in four of their last five meetings.
Group B's titans Australia and Japan will go head to head, though, after Japan's poor start to the competition, the Socceroos may breeze through the challenge. Oman will take on Vietnam. Both will be hoping to take the win - Oman to jump back into third place and Vietnam to get off the bottom rung. If Saudi Arabia beats rivals China, Vietnam's hopes of improving its standing will become more achievable.
In addition to the October matchdays, the tournament's final round will unfold over three other international breaks - November '21 and February and March '22.
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