Kuwait eased to a 9-0 win over Myanmar, South Korea netted eight against lowly Laos and Asian champions Australia battered Bangladesh 5-0 as the continent’s elite made light work of the region’s plucky outsiders. Japan again looked disjointed in attack but still had far too much quality for an outclassed Cambodia in a 3-0 victory in Saitama, while former Asian champions Iraq kicked off their Group F campaign by downing Taiwan 5-1 in Tehran.
Only Hong Kong bucked the trend, holding China to a surprise goalless draw in a politically charged encounter in Shenzhen, played out in front of a heavy police presence, to stay top and unbeaten after three games in Group C.
Hong Kong are part of a group of weaker nations that have taken advantage of revamped Asian qualifying that has thrown them in with the continent’s best following a plea for more matches.
They, along with Guam, Palestine and Singapore had taken surprise group leads after two rounds across the eight pools but Thursday’s results showed most are unlikely to still be top of the pile when the second round concludes in March.
New Tottenham Hotspur signing Son Heung-min struck a hat-trick as perennial qualifiers South Korea claimed the biggest win in the east of the sprawling continent against Laos.
Australia, who beat the Koreans to win the Asian Cup in January, also had a straightforward night as they eased to victory over Bangladesh in Perth despite missing a number of regular starters. The Socceroos were 4-0 up within 29 minutes against a side who barely had a touch of the ball, while home goalkeeper Adam Federici was virtually redundant.
Japan enjoyed similar dominance but profligacy in front of goal meant they could only record a modest three-goal victory over Cambodia to earn a first Group E triumph after being held by Singapore in their opener. Shinji Kagawa recovered after a terrible miss from two metres out with the goal gaping to round off the scoring in the 60th minute of a game played almost entirely in Cambodia’s half.
Udinese fullback Ali Adnan added to his burgeoning reputation with a brilliant cut back and blasted finish as Iraq, buoyed by goalkeeper Noor Sabri coming out of retirement, proved too strong for Taiwan. Guam’s fairytale start to the competition came to a shuddering halt when they were thrashed 6-0 by Iran in Tehran in the later matches played in West Asia.
Singapore’s unbeaten run also ended when they were edged 1-0 by Syria in a Group E match played in Oman. Ali Assadalla and Mohammed Muntari both scored hat-tricks as Qatar ran riot against Bhutan, who have given up 28 goals without scoring any in reply in three matches.
UAE striker Ahmed Khalil scored four goals in the 10-0 thrashing of Malaysia and his team mate Ali Ahmed Mabkhout helped himself to a hat-trick as their side joined unbeaten Saudi Arabia at the top of the Group A standings. The Saudis ensured the trend of big wins continued by crushing East Timor 7-0 with Mohammad Al Sahlawi bagging a treble.-Reuters