Asian heavyweights Japan, South Korea and Australia all took strides toward automatic qualification for the 2014 World Cup by earning creditable results on Tuesday.
Iran, another one of the favorites to advance, were forced to settle for a 0-0 draw against Qatar.
Japan drew 1-1 away to Australia, who will be grateful for a point after playing most of the second half a man down. Japan top Group B with seven points from two games, with Australia in second with two points from two games. Iraq and Oman were also on two points after drawing 1-1.
South Korea won 3-0 at home against Lebanon to lead Group A with two wins from two games. Iran and Qatar were two points behind, while Lebanon and Uzbekistan had one point each and face an uphill task to make the top two and qualify automatically for Brazil 2014.
In Brisbane, Luke Wilkshire’s 70th-minute penalty allowed 10-man Australia to salvage a draw against Japan in a game strewn with contentious refereeing decisions.
Australia played a man down after substitute Mark Milligan picked up a harsh second booking in the 55th, and Japan capitalized 10 minutes later when Keisuke Honda dribbled in and passed perfectly across the face of goal for Yuzo Kurihara to tap in.
Wilkshire equalized five minutes later, after Saudi referee Khalil al-Ghamdi awarded a questionable penalty against Atsuto Uchida for pulling back Alex Brosque on the goal-line as Australia took a corner.
Japan also finished the game with 10 men, after goalscorer Kurihara received his second yellow for bundling Brosque to the ground in an off-the-ball incident.
The refereeing drama went right to the wire: Honda was lining up a free kick, only for Ghamdi to decide he was taking too long to take the shot and blew the whistle for fulltime, to the bemusement of Japan’s players and bench.
Oman kept alive their hopes of advancing by drawing with Iraq.
Oman, which also drew with Australia last week, struck in the eighth minute when Mohammed al-Balushi headed home a cross from Hussain Ali al-Hadhri.
Iraq star striker Younis Mahmoud equalized in the 37th from the penalty spot, awarded after Oman defender Abdul al-Mukhaini was called for a handball. Qatar served as Iraq’s home ground, because FIFA has banned Iraq from hosting internationals because of safety concerns in the war-torn country.
The temperature for much of the match was above 40oC, since Iraq did not have the luxury that Qatar had last week of playing in the country’s only air-conditioned stadium.
Qatar survived an Iranian onslaught to secure a goalless draw.
Iran wasted the bulk of possession and good chances, thanks in part to Qatar goalkeeper Qasem Burhan.