Iran and the UAE topped their respective groups on Tuesday to ease into the third phase of Asian qualifying for the 2022 Fifa World Cup, while Iraq also made it through as one of the five best second-placed teams on a frantic day of action.
Iran pipped Iraq 1-0 in Bahrain to top Group C while the UAE got the better of Vietnam 3-2 in their final Group G match in Dubai.
The top team in each of the eight groups automatically progresses to the 12-team final phase of World Cup qualifying, where they will be joined by the best four runners-up.
Syria, Japan, South Korea and Australia had already clinched their spots in the deciding round, from which four countries will make the cut for next year’s tournament in Qatar.
A fifth team from Asia could also make the third phase via an intercontinental playoff.
On Tuesday, Both Iran and the UAE needed to topple the group leaders to qualify, and they did it in contrasting styles. Sardar Azmoun fired Iran ahead in the 35th minute at the Sheikh Ali bin Mohamed al-Khalifa Stadium in Muharraq.
The Zenit Saint Petersburg striker, who has played a pivotal role for his team since the qualifiers resumed, tapped in from close range after captain Ehsan Hajsafi made his way up on the left flank and sent in a cross.
Both teams fluffed chances later but Iran hung on to their lead to take their tally to 18 points from eight matches, while Iraq finished on 17.
Meanwhile in Dubai, Vietnam wasted their two-point advantage at the top as they were beaten by the Emiratis with Ali Salmeen and Ali Mabkhout finding the net in the first half.
Mahmoud Khamis made it 3-0 five minutes after the break, and while Vietnam pulled two late goals back through Nguyen Tien Linh and Tran Minh Vuong it wasn’t enough to keep top spot.
Earlier striker Ado Onaiwu bagged a six-minute first-half hat-trick as Japan confirmed their dominance in Group F with a crushing 5-1 win over the Kyrgyz Republic in Suita on Tuesday.
Manager Hajime Moriyasu made five changes to the side that beat Tajikistan 4-1 a week ago and opted for Onaiwu to lead the attack in the absence of Takumi Minamino, who withdrew from the squad last week “due to club circumstances”.
Minamino, who had netted in all seven of Japan’s previous group matches, reportedly left after playing in the 1-0 friendly win against Serbia on Thursday in order to sort out a move from Liverpool to Southampton with qualification secured.
Onaiwu did not disappoint in his place, opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 27th minute after a handball by Aizar Akmatov.
He tapped in his second four minutes later at the far post after good work down the right by Kawabe Hayao and completed his quickfire treble in the 33rd minute with a towering header.
Takuma Asano and Sho Sasaki added two more after the break while Kyrgyz captain Mirlan Murzaev scored their consolation penalty in first-half stoppage time.
Onaiwu’s hat-trick was not the fastest hat-trick in World Cup history and was almost pedestrian compared with Egypt substitute Abdul Hamid Bassiouny’s 2001 effort.
Bassiouny took just 117 seconds to score three times after coming on in the 8-2 win against Namibia in a African qualifying match.
The dominant Samurai Blue confirmed their place at the AFC 2023 Asian Cup in China and in the final round of Qatar World Cup 2022 Qualifiers with a perfect eight wins from eight, scoring 46 goals and conceding only two.
In the other Group F match, Tajikistan beat Myanmar 4-0 in Osaka to seal second place.