Singapore produced a huge surprise by upsetting Syria 2-1 with their first victory in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, as Malaysia and Indonesia grabbed unlikely draws on a good night for Southeast Asia.
FIFA World Cup qualifiers Iran overcame a stubbornly defenThailand to claim a 2-1 win in Tehran, as Jordan, hoping to join Iran in Brazil next year, played out a drab goalless draw at home to Oman.
Elsewhere, Ali Mabkhout scored a hat-trick as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) routed Hong Kong 4-0 to maintain their 100 percent record in the cup’s Group E and Uzbekistan overcame Vietnam 3-1 in Tashkent.
Tuesday marked the halfway stage of the five qualifying groups, with 11 places still up for grabs after a number of draws left the identity of the Asian Cup finalists in Australia still undecided.
In Group A, Singapore were expected to offer little resistance to 2011 competitors Syria, but Khairul Amri and substitute Gabriel Quak scored second-half goals to give the hosts all three points.
A brilliant solo effort by forward Reja Rafe proved too little, too late for Syria as the home side deservedly held on to move up to third and one place off the qualifying positions for Australia.
“It is not a good result to beat Syria 2-1, it is a very good result. It was a hard fight,” Singapore manager Bernd Stange said.
However, the German held little hope of overtaking Jordan or Oman to claim one of the two berths from the pool or the best third-place position across the five groups.
“We don’t care for the next matches we have in this qualification, we have to be realistic,” Stange said.
Oman lead the group on seven points after their goalless draw against Jordan, who moved on to five, with Singapore on three and Syria last on one.
In Group C, China have enjoyed a resurgence under caretaker boss Fu Bo, but he could not prevent them throwing away a lead to draw 1-1 in Indonesia.
Wu Xi gave the visitors a deserved lead in the 36th minute of a first half they dominated, but China tired in the heat and the hosts made them pay with captain Boaz Solossa smashing home a brilliant volley in the 68th minute.
“I made a game plan for each half. I knew that China would suffer with the hot weather and it worked,” Indonesia manager Jacksen Tiago said.
China have four points, with group leaders Saudi Arabia on 12 after beating Iraq 2-0 on Tuesday.
In Group B, Iran went top after overcoming Thailand, while Lebanon on four points and Kuwait with five played out a 1-1 draw in Beirut.
Two goals in three minutes from defender Jalal Hosseini and forward Reza Ghoochannejhad put hosts Iran clear with 20 minutes left, only for Teerasil Dangda to pull one back in the 80th minute.
There were no such narrow margins in Group E, where the UAE made it three wins from three thanks to Mabkhout’s hat-trick with Walid Abbas completing the rout in the final moments.
Uzbekistan moved second in the group on four points after their 3-1 win over Vietnam to draw level with Hong Kong.
In Group D, Bahrain lead the way on seven points after they failed to win for the first time, drawing 1-1 against Malaysia.
Abdullah Ahmed Saleh put the visitors ahead in the first half, before Norshahrul Idlan Talaha equalized 20 minutes before the end as Malaysia came close to snatching an upset win.
World Cup 2022 hosts Qatar are second in the group on six points after thrashing last-placed Yemen 6-0 on Sunday, while Malaysia have four points.
Defending champions Japan have already qualified for the tournament along with hosts Australia and South Korea courtesy of their top-three finishes four years ago. North Korea booked their spot after winning last year’s Challenge Cup.
Additional reporting by with staff writer