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FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Asian Qualifiers: Stats Wrap

Saturday, September 2, 2017
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Kuala Lumpur: The penultimate round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers on Thursday saw Japan join the Islamic Republic of Iran in advancing to Russia but leaves plenty of unanswered questions elsewhere with two automatic places and two play-off berths still up for grabs.

As the 12 teams aim for a quick recovery ahead of the final round of fixtures on Tuesday, reflects on some of the key stats and facts from a week that produced excitement, tension and some cracking goals to boot.

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The race for top scorer heats up

Nawaf Al Abed and Ahmed Khalil take their goal tallies to five

Goals from Nawaf Al Abed and Ahmed Khalil in Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 defeat to the UAE took the pair to five goals apiece – level with Iraq’s Mohannad Abdulraheem – and the trio now go into the final Matchday in a race for the top scorer accolade. If things don’t go to plan for the Saudis, though, Al Abed may well be looking at a further two matches in the continental play-offs to add to his tally.

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And then there was one

Australia may not have produced their best form in the qualifying campaign but their loss to Japan was a first in Group B, leaving IR Iran as the only unbeaten team after Carlos Queiroz’s side’s scoreless draw with Korea Republic stretched their run to nine without defeat.

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Shutout almost complete, but Omars pose a threat

Arguably even more impressive, IR Iran have still to concede in the group stage and a shutout against Syria on Tuesday will see them finish with a perfect defensive record. But the two Omars – Khribin and the recently recalled Al Soma – may have something to say about that, especially with the Syrians desperate to pick up all three points.

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Perfect return

Indeed, the only player to score more than once this week was Omar Khribin, after the forward netted a brace with his only two shots on goal in Syria’s 3-1 win over Qatar. The West Asians now go into their final Group A fixture with IR Iran knowing victory could see them claim second place and an automatic spot in Russia next year.

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Inexperience shows

For the second game in a row Thailand dropped points in the dying minutes as Saad Abdulameer’s 85th-minute penalty wrapped up a 2-1 win for Iraq in Bangkok. Back in June it was Ali Mabkhout who claimed a draw in stoppage time, while nine of the War Elephants’ 22 goals against have come in the final 10 minutes.

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Old-timers or newbies?

Korea Republic have participated at more FIFA World Cups than any other Asian side and are gunning for a hugely impressive ninth successive edition and tenth overall. The home draw with IR Iran, though, means defeat in Uzbekistan would see the Uzbeks – or perhaps even Syria – clinch the automatic spot with both aiming for their maiden appearance.

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Uzbekistan form a worry

Since Matchday Four Uzbekistan have claimed just a solitary win and suffered four defeats. Only Thailand – who have lost just three in that time – have picked up fewer points over the five games. Amazingly, should the Central Asians defeat Korea Republic in Tashkent next week, then a first World Cup appearance is likely.

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Sharing the burden

Yosuke Ideguchi’s wonderful strike that confirmed Japan’s place in Russia next year saw the midfielder become the 12th different Japanese player to find the back of the net in the current campaign – more than any other nation. By comparison, the most impressive team in qualifying, Iran, have seen only five of their players get on the scoresheet, with two of them coming back on Matchday One.