SINGAPORE: Asian heavyweights Japan and Iran kicked-off their World Cup bids with surprise draws against Singapore and Turkmenistan on Tuesday as the region’s minnows continued to justify the decision for a qualifying revamp.
Singapore owed much to goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud after their goalless draw at the Saitama Stadium, while Turkmenistan’s Ruslan Mingazow scored just before halftime in Dashoguz as three-times Asian champions Iran were held 1-1.
Despite their stuttering starts, neither Japan nor Iran should have problems advancing to the next stage as pool winners in an inflated joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying second round where 39 teams are split over eight groups.
Asian champions Australia also looked close to suffering a surprise draw but they escaped Bishkek with a 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan.
The Socceroos were given a dream start as Mile Jedinak’s free kick in the second minute bounced into the corner of the net, with the hosts’ goalkeeper at fault.
But the visitors were on the backfoot thereafter as Kyrgyzstan, ranked 177th in the world by FIFA, pushed and probed impressively.
Tommy Oar eventually added a 67th-minute second for Australia, who endured a nervy finale after a 92nd-minute goal for the hosts was allowed to stand despite Socceroo claims Almazbek Mirzaliev had handled the ball into the net.
South Korea, who lost the Asian Cup final to Australia in January, had no such trouble in seeing off Myanmar 2-0 away in Bangkok.
Son Heung-min’s second-half pile-driver and Lee Jae-sung’s first-half opener gave the perennial qualifiers a solid start to Group ‘G’.
Arch rivals North Korea, twice World Cup finalists, recorded an impressive 4-2 win over Uzbekistan in Pyongyang for their second win in Group ‘H’. The hosts were 4-0 up in 36 minutes.
Elsewhere the other groups have unfamiliar leaders.
Tiny Guam, in Group ‘D’ with Iran, continued their dream start to the campaign with a 2-1 win over India which left them top of the pool after they recorded their first ever World Cup qualifying victory against Turkmenistan on Thursday.
Lowly Hong Kong top Group ‘C’ after they overcame Maldives 2-0 at home for their second win in the pool while Teerasil Dangda scored both goals as Thailand beat Taiwan 2-0 away to make it two wins from two to lead Group ‘F’.
Their Southeast Asian rivals Malaysia endured more misery, however, as they were tanked 6-0 at home by Palestine, the same victory margin China enjoyed in Bhutan.
Asia’s road to Russia 2018 resumes in September.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2015