Kuala Lumpur: With vital clashes in the second round of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 looming later in the year, only three nations remain unscathed in their quest for a place in the third phase of the fight for a place in the Finals.
A perfect five wins from five games has marked Syria out not only as the leaders of Group A ahead of China PR but sees the West Asian nation stand tallest across the entirety of the qualifying phase with the best return to date.
See also :
AFC Champions League
Vote for your best ACL2017 Team: Goalkeeper
Expert’s View: Asia’s Greatest Eredivisie Players
Asia's Greatest Eredivisie Players
That perfect record was achieved with Fajr Ibrahim at the helm but, with Nabil Maaloul taking over as head coach in March, it remains to be seen what impact the Tunisian tactician has on his new squad.
Prior to the coaching change, the Syrians put themselves in pole position to book their place in the next round of qualifying, sitting eight points ahead of Li Tie’s side although, with the Chinese having played one game fewer, the fight for berths in the third phase remains alive.
The Philippines, who pulled off a surprise 0-0 draw with the Chinese in Bacolod in October, are level on seven points with China, with the Maldives a point further adrift while Guam are out of contention.
Australia and Japan, meanwhile, are the only other nations to hold unblemished records, with both countries winning their first four games in Group B and F respectively to be in a strong position to look ahead to the next round too.
Graham Arnold’s side are two points ahead of Kuwait having played one game fewer than the side from the Gulf, with the Socceroos already notching up wins against all of their opponents as they eye qualification for a fifth successive FIFA World Cup.
The Japanese are in an even stronger position having won all of their games against their opponents in Group F and Hajime Moriyasu’s team are five points clear of second-placed Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, with Myanmar a further point adrift.
Elsewhere, though, the battle for the 12 slots in the next phase of qualifying remains enthralling. Winners of each group are guaranteed to advance while berths will also be earned by the four group runners-up with the best records.
As a result, the fight for points is sure to intensify when play resumes, with Matchdays 7 and 8 scheduled for October 8 and 13 while Matchdays 9 and 10 set for November 12 and 17.
Iraq hold a two point lead over Bahrain in Group C but both nations have played five games to the four contested by the Islamic Republic of Iran, who sit in third spot on six points.
New Team Melli head coach Dragan Skocic will be looking to close the five-point gap with the Iraqis once play resumes against Hong Kong as the Central Asians look to qualify for a third successive FIFA World Cup finals.
In Group D, Uzbekistan are top with nine points from their first five games but lead Saudi Arabia by a solitary point, with Herve Renard’s side holding a game in hand on Vadim Abramov’s charges.
The Saudis face Yemen in the next round of matches and, with Uzbekistan on a rest week, the five-time FIFA World Cup qualifiers would move into pole position with a win over their fellow West Asians.
FIFA World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar top Group E with only a 0-0 draw with India blemishing their record across their first five games and Felix Sanchez’s side lead Oman by a point as the Gulf pair dominate proceedings ahead of Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh.
Vietnam, meanwhile, are in the driver’s seat in Group G as they hold a two-point lead over Malaysia in a fascinating group where five points separate the first four teams. Park Hang-seo’s side hold top spot with 11 points, with Malaysia on nine and Thailand a further point behind.
The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, are fourth in the group with six points but the FIFA World Cup 1990 qualifiers have a game in hand over the teams above them and a win over Malaysia in their next game would pull the West Asians back into the reckoning.
Korea Republic’s quest to extend their record of consecutive FIFA World Cup appearances to double figures remains alive, even as Paulo Bento’s side sit in second place in Group H behind Turkmenistan.
The Taeguk Warriors are a point behind the Central Asian nation but have played one game fewer, with the two countries due to face off in the next match day. Korea Republic currently have eight points and share that total with Lebanon and DPR Korea who, like Turkmenistan, have played five times.
Recommended Stories :
AFC announces proposed dates for upcoming Asian Qualifiers
AFC Asian Cup
Magical Moments: Ali Daei vs Korea Republic (1996 AFC Asian Cup)
5 of the Best: Long-range goals