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5 Iconic Asian Qualifiers


Kuala Lumpur: Excitement is building ahead of the return of the Asian Qualifiers in the coming days as the sides continue on the road towards the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023. 

As fans prepare for the resumption of the second round of qualifying, the-AFC.com winds the clock back to campaigns of years gone by, which have thrown up some of the most memorable matches in Asian football history.

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Japan 2-2 Iraq
Final Round, Matchday Five, October 28, 1993

When a match is referred to as the 'Agony of Doha' then there can be little doubt that drama unfolded, and that's exactly what happened when Japan met Iraq in the final match of qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.

Going into the final round of fixtures in the six-team group, Japan led the way ahead of Saudi Arabia and Korea Republic, with the top two to advance to the global showpiece. The math was simple: win and the Samurai Blue – crowned Asian champions for the first time in 1992 – would secure a place in their first FIFA World Cup.

Having recovered from a slow start in the group, Hans Ooft's Japan went into the game on the back of successive victories over DPR Korea and Korea Republic, and they got off to the perfect start when Kazuyoshi Muira headed them in front after just five minutes.

Japanese hopes were dampened when Ahmed Radhi bundled the ball home early in the second half, although Masashi Nakayama restored the East Asians' lead with just over 20 minutes to play. As the game entered its final minute, Japan were within touching distance of a place at the global showpiece.

But there was still time for one last twist in the tale. With Japan holding on for dear life, they finally succumbed to Iraqi pressure when Ala Kadhim's cross was headed into the back of the net by Jaffar Salman to break Japanese hearts in the most dramatic of climaxes.

An unlikely set of results could have still seen the Samurai Blue advance, but Saudi Arabia's win over the Islamic Republic of Iran and Korea Republic's victory against DPR Korea spelt the end of the road. Four years later, however, Japan finally reached their first FIFA World Cup when they qualified for France '98.


Australia 2-2 Islamic Republic of Iran
Intercontinental Play-off, Second Leg, November 29, 1997

With 31 of the 32 places at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France having already been secured, Australia and the Islamic Republic of Iran faced off aiming to book the last ticket. And the sides threw up a classic.

Aiming to reach their first FIFA World Cup since 1974, Australia – then part of the Oceania Football Confederation – returned for the second leg on home soil after claiming an impressive 1-1 draw in front of more than 120,000 at Tehran's iconic Azadi Stadium.

Harry Kewell then sent a packed Melbourne Cricket Stadium into raptures just after the half hour of the return meeting, and when Aurelio Vidmar doubled the hosts' advantage early in the second half, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Iran. But what came next stunned the Socceroos.

Needing two goals to progress to their first FIFA World Cup since 1978, Iran threw themselves a lifeline with 15 minutes to play when Karim Bagheri finished from seven yards after some scrappy defending from the hosts. Suddenly there was hope for the Iranians and fear inside the stadium.

Incredibly, the comeback was complete just four minutes later as Ali Daei turned and slipped a beautiful ball through to Khodadad Azizi, who coolly tucked the ball past Mark Bosnich into the back of the net to spark joyous scenes among the Iranians.

The away goals victory saw Iran return to the FIFA World Cup after a 20-year hiatus and there were fond memories of France '98, where they went on to defeat the United States for their first-ever victory in the competition.


Saudi Arabia 2-2 Bahrain
Fifth Round, Play-off, September 9, 2009

The Saudi Arabian team of the 1990s and 2000s was among the greatest of its time in Asia, winning the 1996 AFC Asian Cup and qualifying for four successive FIFA World Cups between 1994 and 2006. But with Sami Al Jaber retired, the Saudis missed out on automatic qualification for the 2010 edition, meaning they faced a two-legged clash with Bahrain for the right to take on New Zealand in the Intercontinental Play-off.

Bahrain, meanwhile, were a team on the up and had only narrowly missed out on qualifying for their first FIFA World Cup in 2006 following a narrow defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, while they had also reached the semi-finals of the 2004 AFC Asian Cup. They were, however, not the favourites against their neighbours in 2009.

After a goalless draw in the first leg at Bahrain National Stadium in which the hosts had taken the game to Saudi Arabia without reward, they faced the daunting task of having to avoid defeat – and most likely score – at Riyadh's King Fahd International Stadium.

The Saudis got off to the perfect start when Nasser Al Shamrani finished following a neat team move in the 13th minute but Jaycee John tapped home shortly before the interval to level proceedings and put the visitors in the driving seat, meaning the Green Falcons needed to score in the second half.

As the clock ticked into added time the score remained 1-1 and the hosts were staring elimination in the face when Yasser Al Qahtani lofted the ball towards the back post for Hamad Al Muntashari to head home and send the home support into raptures as a fifth successive FIFA World Cup appearance was seemingly secured.

But deep into stoppage time, and with their the last throw of the dice, Bahrain somehow turned despair into joy as Ismail Abdullatif rose highest to head Salman Eissa's header into the back of the net as the hosts slumped to the floor and the visitors rejoiced in a monumentous victory. Sadly for Bahrain, though, a 1-0 loss to New Zealand meant they ultimately missed out on qualification.


Guam 2-1 India
Second Round, Matchday Two, June 16, 2015

It was the game that generated global headlines because, while just 33 places separated 141st-ranked India in the FIFA World Rankings and 174th-placed Guam, the huge difference in the talent pool available to the two nations made this story one for the ages.

Having lost their opening game of the second round of the 2018 Asian Qualifiers at home to Oman, India, with a population of more than 1.2 billion, travelled to the tiny Pacific island of Guam, home to just over 165,000 people.

The hosts went into the game on the back of an impressive start to their qualifying campaign after they had edged Turkmenistan 1-0 on home soil in what was their first qualification match since 2002, when they suffered 19-0 and 16-0 defeats to Iran and Tajikistan respectively.

And things went from good to better for Guam when they stunned India by taking the lead in the 37th minute as Brandon McDonald headed a long throw-in into the bottom right corner to bring the National Training Center in Dededo to its feet.

Shortly after the hour mark and the hosts doubled their advantage when Travis Nicklaw got in behind the India defence, turned and finished with aplomb to make the upset a real possibility. India did manage to pull one back through Sunil Chhetri's stoppage-time header but it proved the last play of the game.

The result left India rooted to the foot of the Group D table and effectively ended any hope they had of reaching the next round. Guam, meanwhile, went on to pick up just one more point from their remaining six games but will look back on the victory as the greatest in their history as they put themselves on the world's footballing map.


China PR 1-0 Korea Republic
Third Round, Matchday Six, March 23, 2017

China PR against Korea Republic is one of Asian football's great rivalries but, at senior level men's football at least, it had been somewhat one-sided over the years, with the Chinese having never beaten their East Asian rivals in an AFC competition ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.

And when the pair met in the opening game of the third round of qualifying in Seoul in September 2016, it was a familiar story with the Koreans three up by the midway point of the second half, before China did restore some pride by pulling two back as the game ended 3-2.

By the time the return meeting came round in Changsha in March 2017, Marcello Lippi's China were still seeking their first win, having drawn two and lost three as their FIFA World Cup hopes had all but ended. Korea, meanwhile, were in second position and well-placed for qualification.

Despite their poor campaign to date, a sea of red turned up to cheer on China, and they were rewarded when Yu Dabao's 35th-minute header from Wang Yongpo's corner skipped past Kwoun Sun-tae in the Korea goal as the hosts took a one-goal lead into the interval.

The Taeguk Warriors fought back with Ki Sung-yueng seeing his effort well saved by Zeng Cheng and Hong Jeong-ho's header cleared off the line by Wu Xi as China defended resolutely to see out the win and give themselves a glimmer of hope of a third-placed finish.

It was not to be, however, as despite winning two of their remaining four games, they finished second bottom in the standings to miss out on FIFA World Cup qualification. Korea recovered, meanwhile, to secure a ninth successive appearance at the tournament.

Photos: FIFA

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