All five groups have now completed half of their games as teams jockey for position to finish in the top two of their groups and advance to Round 4.
Group A saw a fantastic match between Iraq and China PR. The Iraqis entered as slight underdogs but Younis Mahmoud gave the visitors a 1-0 lead just before halftime. In the second half, Iraq’s Basem Abbas was sent off in the 65th minute but Iraq was able to hang on for a critical 1-0 victory. The Iraqis now have a three-point advantage on China PR for the second spot in Group A.
It is a three-team race in Group B as the Korea Republic, Kuwait and Lebanon all battle to advance. South Korea has struggled lately, earning a draw in a match they were heavily favored in against Kuwait last month. Last week they defeated the United Arab Emirates 2-1 on a timely second-half own goal. Meanwhile, Kuwait and Lebanon were each battling for control of the second spot in Group B and neither managed to pull away as the two sides finished a 2-2 draw. Kuwait currently has a one-point lead and a large goal differential against Lebanon but with three games left, anything can happen. Lebanon is the lowest-ranked AFC team still attempting to qualify and is giving the rest of Group B a run for its money.
Uzbekistan is struggling to score goals but they are putting up impressive results. A 1-0 win at Korea DPR has them all square with Japan halfway through Group C. Japan hammered Tajikistan 8-0, and there are now two clear favorites to advance to Round 4. North Korea has some work to do if they expect to catch Uzbekistan as they trail by four points and still have to travel to Uzbekistan.
Australia has looked solid, posting three wins in three matches. That leaves the second spot up for grabs between Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Despite not scoring a goal, Oman has a draw and is just three points from second-place Thailand. Saudi Arabia and Thailand played to a scoreless draw in Bangkok last week, making the next set of matches in November critical.
Last but certainly not least is Group E, which has been arguably the most competitive group so far. Iran earned a little distance from the pack by pounding Bahrain, 6-0. Prior to facing Iran, Bahrain held their previous two opponents scoreless. Qatar needed a second-half goal by Mohammed Razak to squeak by Indonesia and has a slim one-point lead over Bahrain for the second position. Indonesia has stayed in games but would need at least two or three victories in the final three matches to have a chance to advance.
Many groups will have a clearer picture in the next set of international dates. All AFC teams will be in action on November 11 and November 15, which will leave just one game left for squads in the Round 3 qualifying stage.
Brett Brecheisen serves as the World Cup specialist for WeFollowFutbol. Read more about him here.