Round Three of qualifying is complete for the Asian Football Confederation and there was plenty of excitement in the final match day of the round.
Group A was not one with late drama as Iraq and Jordan had already clinched their spots in Round Four prior to last week. China PR was the highest ranked in the group but has had plenty of trouble over the past year beginning with the Asian Cup in January 2011. Its struggles carried over to World Cup qualifying as it was swept by Iraq and split the two games with Jordan. At one point, Jordan had actually gone unbeaten in its previous 11 matches before dropping back-to-back meaningless tilts against Iraq and China PR. Iraq won its final five matches to advance.
Surprising results came out of Group B where Lebanon posted 10 points in six matches and advanced to the final stage of qualifying for the first time in history. The Lebanese entered Round Three ranked 160 in the FIFA World Rankings and fell 6-0 to South Korea in the first match of the round. However, new head coach Theo Bücker was able to get the most out of his players four days later, coming from behind to defeat the United Arab Emirates 3-1. Lebanon was able to later defeat Kuwait and earn a stunning victory at home against South Korea to put itself in prime position to advance. Kuwait had an opportunity to advance with a win over South Korea on the final match day but fell 2-0 as the favorites joined Lebanon in Round Four.
Group C was rather quiet as Japan and Uzbekistan – both heavy favorites – dominated the competition. Uzbekistan was very impressive, conceding just one goal in six matches. Its five wins and one draw had it sitting comfortable atop the group. Uzbekistan is a real threat to qualify for the 2014 World Cup for the first time.
Oman made a fantastic run to close out play in Group D and punch its ticket to the next round. The nation had two losses and a draw after the first three matches but fought back, earning a surprising victory over group favorite Australia on November 11 and punching its ticket with a win over Thailand last week. Australia was able to held Oman out, scoring three second-half goals to defeat Saudi Arabia – a loss that ended Saudi Arabia’s chances at advancing.
The strangest finish came in Group E, in which Bahrain needed to overcome a nine-goal differential in its final match to advance. Bahrain was able to do just that, getting help from a red card issued to Indonesia’s goalkeeper in the third minute, and won the controversial match 10-0. However, Qatar was able to score an 86th-minute goal against Iran to earn a draw, and advance on the additional point. Iran and Qatar both finished the group unbeaten as five of the group’s twelve matches ended in draws. Indonesia ended a disappointing run by losing all six matches with a goal differential of -23.
The top two teams from each group advanced to Round Four – which will hold a draw on March 9 to put the 10 teams into two groups of five. The top two squads from each group will advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup while the third place teams will advance to Round Five of qualifying.
This is Brett Brecheisen’s 18th post on WeFollowFutbol. Read his complete works here.