2002 FIFA World Cup semi-finalists Korea had to rally from behind in Ho Chi Minh City while 10-man China barely snuck out a 1-0 result in Malaysia. Brave Iraq also kept up momentum after a fine performance in Athens with a drubbing of Chinese Taipei. Here's a look back at a good day for the away teams – only two of the 16 home sides managed to avoid defeat.
THREE THE HARD WAY FOR EAST ASIA POWERHOUSES
East Asia’s trio of participants at the finals in Korea/Japan 2002 all took maximum points midweek. But only Zico’s Japan managed to do so convincingly.
After some brave early resistance outsiders India inevitably succumbed to the speed power and technical acumen of recently crowned Asian Cup champions Japan. It took the fancied Nipponese 44 minutes to get on the board and ex Boca Juniors man Takayuki Suzuki’s strike on the stroke of halftime looked to take the air out of the home side. Shinji Ono Takashi Fukunishi and Tsuneyasu Miyamoto all followed suit with goals of their own in the second half silencing the hopeful 95000-strong Calcutta crowd.
"We came here to win and we did remarked the former Brazil playmaker and current Japan coach. "We showed courage and fought hard in the second half." The win sees Japan keep up their 100% record in qualifying leading Group 3 with 12 points.
Korea Republic and China however failed to come away from their wins with such inflated confidence. Cha Du-Ri saw red for the Taeguk Warriors in only the 11th minute against long shots Vietnam and the favourites’ hopes then took a further hit when Park Jae-Hong unintentionally steered the ball past his own goalkeeper just after the interval.
But with a fierce focus and steely determination Jo Bonfrere’s visitors roared back to overhaul the deficit thanks to a header from Lee Dong-Gook and a spectacular free-kick from Lee Chun-Soo.
Though the win was not the most convincing the Koreans remain at the top of Group 7 with 10 points. "If our players had the same mindset and level of hard work as the Vietnamese we would have won this game 5-0 an angry Bonfrere told journalists after the match.
China hosts and finalists of this summer’s Asian Cup were also made to suffer for their supper in Malaysia. Only a 69th minute strike from Li Jinyu saved Arie Haan’s heavy favourites some serious blushes . Like Korea the Chinese were made to fight back from a numerical inferiority after Zheng Zhi was given his marching orders just after the half.
Group 1: IRAN JOIN JORDAN ON TOP
Iran left it late to down Jordan and join their opponents as joint group leaders. Two goals in the last quarter-hour from Alireza Vahedi-Nikbakht and evergreen striker Ali Daei put paid to their hosts 2-0. The two sides are now locked on nine points at the pinnacle of of the Germany 2006 table.
Qatar slammed pointless bottom feeders Laos 6-1 to keep hold of third place with six points and within sight of the frontrunners.
Group 2: IRAQ KEEP UP THE CHARGE
Iraq’s 4-1 drubbing of Chinese Taipei on the road sees the second-place hopefuls keep the pressure on Group leaders Uzbekistan. A first-half brace from Salih Sadir turned the match into something of a foregone conclusion. And two more from Saad Attiya and Razzaq Farhan made Hui Kai Tsai’s late tally little more than mere consolation.
But the Uzbeks still have their noses out in front thanks to a 3-0 win over Palestine in Qatar to keep two points between themselves and Iraq.
Chinese Taipei look to be coming to the end of their rainbow though propping up the group with zero points. Plucky Palestine are still kicking and screaming in third with four points.
Group 3: OMAN STILL IN IT
With Japan’s 12-point stranglehold on the group; second-place Oman did what they needed to with a 2-0 win in Singapore. A goal in each half from Yousef Shaaban and Khamis Suleiman sees the side with nine points from four matches.
Singapore are pretty much dead and buried with zero points from four matches.
Group 4: KUWAIT CHASING CHINA
China’s slim win over Malaysia sees them well out in front with 12 points from four matches. But mid-east plodders and one-time FIFA World Cup finalists in 1982 Kuwait not too far off in second with nine points thanks to a 2-0 win over struggling Hong Kong. Goals from Mesaed Al Enezi and Hamad Al Harbi saw the Kuwaitis take a full three points on the road against outgunned ten-man Hong Kong.
Group 5: KOREA D.P.R. LOOK TO REPEAT HISTORY
Mysterious Korea DPR who shook up the world by becoming the first Asian side to reach a FIFA World Cup quarter-final back at England ’66 still control the destiny of the group. But they owe a great debt of gratitude to Yemen who earned their first win of the campaign to keep them in top spot.
Yemen’s 3-1 one win over second-place United Arab Emirates made Korea DPR’s 4-1 win over lowly Thailand enough to see the East Asians to eight points and top spot – just one in front of the inconsistent Emirates.
With a few more favours and a little more luck the Koreans could well take one more step toward a historic return to the finals.
Group 6: BAHRAIN BOSS OF THE PACK
Bahrain remain in top spot following a tense 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek. A goal in each half from Mahmood Al Hanfi and Mohamed Hubail sees the side atop the group with ten points from four matches.
Syria though kept up the pressure with a 1-0 win over Tajikistan. With seven points from their matches the Syrians are still in with a shout.
Group 7: LEBANON LURKING
Though the on-again-off-again Koreans still own top spot Lebanon find themselves only one point off with nine from four matches. Their 5-2 dismantling of thoroughly outmatched Maldives sees them with three wins from four tries. Ali Naserreddine was in fine fettle for the victorious visitors chipping in with two goals in the win.
Group 8: ASTOUNDING SAUDIS STILL IN FRONT
A goal from Ahmed Al Dosari saw Saudi Arabia edge out Turkmenistan 1-0 on the road. With a full twelve points from four matches the Gulf side are flying high. Their closest pursuers Turkmenistan and Indonesia have only half as many points while Sri Lanka are down in the doldrums with zero from four.