FIFA World Cup 2018

FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Asian Qualifiers: Stats Wrap

Friday, September 8, 2017
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Kuala Lumpur: The Road to Russia reached a gripping climax on Tuesday as Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia joined the Islamic Republic of Iran and Japan as Asia’s confirmed FIFA World Cup representatives, while Syria and Australia’s campaigns continue with a two-legged Play-off next month.

With all 10 rounds of matches in the group stage now complete, takes one final look at the stats and facts that caught the eye in yet another pulsating set of fixtures that saw some dreams realised and others dashed.

Going for the jugular

Australia’s narrow 2-1 win over Thailand may not have been by the margin required to finish above Saudi Arabia, but nobody can say they didn’t go for it. Thirty-four shots on goal was not only a weekly high but the greatest number over the whole group stage, while Tomas Rogic’s 10 shots was also a weekly and group stage high.

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A touch of class

Yet another group stage record saw Aaron Mooy touch the ball an incredible 156 times in Australia’s onslaught on Thailand. More importantly, though, was his excellent delivery for Tomi Juric’s opener – one of 108 successful passes – and it was also the Huddersfield Town man’s corner that led to Mathew Leckie’s winner.

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Syria find their shooting boots

While all the talk has been of Syria’s remarkable campaign, it has gone somewhat under the radar that they netted just twice in their first seven games. Omar Al Soma’s injury-time equaliser against Iran made it seven goals – and five points – from their final three matches to clinch third place in Group A and a play-off berth.

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Never say die

Speaking of Syria and their scoring feats, four of their nine goals came in stoppage time. That fight-till-the-end attitude secured a win and two draws to be worth an additional four points, and was the difference between finishing in third or a lowly fifth.

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Strike it unlucky

With so many teams desperately seeking final day wins, the woodwork was struck 11 times – almost twice per game – with Australia and Korea Republic (three apiece) the most unfortunate sides. Up until this frantic round of fixtures the previous weekly high was five, back on Matchday Four.

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Goals galore in Group B

A total of 77 goals were scored in 30 Group B games at a ratio of more than 2.5 per match, while across 10 Matchdays there was not a single goalless draw. In contrast, Iran alone were involved in three 0-0 stalemates in Group A and did not concede until the final round of fixtures; take a bow, Tamer Haj Mohamad.

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Competitive streak

Only Iran and Japan had secured their qualification to Russia prior to the final round of fixtures, but the pair cannot be accused of taking their foot off the pedal. The Iranians’ 19 fouls on Syria was more than any other side, while Japan's Maya Yoshida took the unwanted individual accolade after being pulled up for sinning five times against Saudi Arabia.

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The Lippi effect

Since Marcello Lippi took over the China reins the East Asians’ form has improved dramatically, and only Iran gained more points in the second half of the Group A campaign. In total, 10 of their 12 points have come since Matchday Six and, although hypothetical, how the Chinese must wish they had just a little more time.

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Away day blues

Korea Republic’s scoreless draw with Uzbekistan was enough to see them advance to a ninth successive FIFA World Cup but was only their second point on the road. Only Thailand and Qatar had less but the South Koreans, who had the joint best home record, did just enough as a fourth successive away defeat would have meant a tricky play-off date with Australia.

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Iraq a rising force

Since the midway point of the group stage Iraq have picked up eight points including credible draws with Japan and Australia as well as Tuesday’s excellent 1-0 victory over the UAE. A solitary win over Thailand was the Lions of Mesopotamia’s only source of points in the first half of the campaign and it seems clear, under head coach Basim Qasim, Iraq can be a force to be reckoned with in the future. .