AFC/ Muharraq, Bahrain
Sardar Azmoun was the hero as Iran edged Iraq 1-0 yesterday to finish as Group C winners in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023. The win completed a remarkable turnaround for Team Melli, who won all four of their matches following the resumption of the Asian Qualifiers and keeps them on track for a third consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup Finals.
The defeat, however, didn’t prove costly for Iraq as they too advanced to the final round of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Iran’s persistence was rewarded in the 35th minute, with captain Ehsan Hajsafi beating the offside trap on the left wing before sending the ball to a surging Azmoun to tap home the opening goal from close range. Bahrain turned on the power in the second half to beat Hong Kong 4-0 in their final Group C tie. The win moved the West Asians to third place on 15 points, three behind of Iran.
The United Arab Emirates survived a late scare to book their place in the final round of the qualifiers with a 3-2 victory against Group G rivals Vietnam at Zabeel Stadium. The win meant UAE dethroned Vietnam from the top spot of Group G on the final day to reach the final round of the Asian Qualifiers for the second time running while there was joy for Vietnam despite the defeat as they advanced for the first time in their history. Australia made it eight wins from eight to cap a perfect Asian Qualifiers Second Round campaign, earning a 1-0 victory which extinguished Jordan’s hopes of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
A sixth goal in five matches from defender Harry Souttar secured victory for the Socceroos, with the Stoke City man rising highest to head home a corner kick in the 77th minute, dashing Jordan’s bid to qualify for the Third Round as one as one of the best-placed runners-up.
Australia’s perfect tally of 24 points marks their best ever start to an Asian Qualifiers campaign, and keeps alive their bid of reaching a fifth successive FIFA World Cup Finals.
Meanwhile, Striker Ado Onaiwu bagged a six-minute first-half hat-trick as Japan confirmed their dominance in Group F with a crushing 5-1 win over the Kyrgyz Republic in Suita yesterday.
Manager Hajime Moriyasu opted for Onaiwu to lead the attack in the absence of Takumi Minamino, who withdrew from the squad last week “due to club circumstances”. Onaiwu did not disappoint, opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after a handball by Aizar Akmatov.
He tapped in for his second four minutes later at the far post after good work down the right by Kawabe Hayao and completed his quickfire treble in the 33rd minute with a towering header.
Takuma Asano and Sho Sasaki added two more after the break while Kyrgyz captain Mirlan Murzaev scored their consolation penalty in first-half stoppage time. Minamino, who had netted in all seven of Japan’s group matches, reportedly left after playing in the 1-0 friendly win against Serbia on Thursday in order to sort out a move from Premier League Liverpool to Southampton with qualification secured.
In the other Group F match, Tajikistan beat Myanmar 4-0 in Osaka to seal second place. Only the top team in each of the eight groups automatically progress to the third phase of World Cup qualifying, where they will be joined by the best four group runners-up.
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