Vietnam, Syria consolidate strong positions in AFC World Cup qualifying

Monday produced another eventful matchday in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Asia, with 44 goals in 13 matches. We still have plenty of questions to answer, with 10 of the 12 third-round spots remain up for grabs.

Syria became just the second team to guarantee a place in the next round, while World Cup hosts Qatar sealed top spot in Group E with a 1-0 defeat of second-placed Oman; Qatar's victory also ensured that five second-placed sides will progress from the present stage.

ASEAN powerhouse Vietnam returned to the qualifiers with a 4-0 triumph against Indonesia, while Thailand had their chances diminished by a loss to the United Arab Emirates. Australia moved closer to the next phase with a 5-1 win over Chinese Taipei while a defeat by Mongolia threw a spanner in the works for the Kyrgyz Republic.

Vietnam consolidate but have UAE hot on their heels

It was a performance synonymous with Park Hang-seo and his Vietnam national team. The Golden Star Warriors were not at the top of their game on their return to the competition after almost 19 months, but still they kept their cool to score four goals against bottom side Indonesia and remain unbeaten in the qualifiers.

The Southeast Asian champions failed to find a way past an already eliminated Indonesia in the first half, as the Garuda resumed where they had left off in their 2-2 draw against Thailand last week. Fortune wasn't favouring Vietnam either as Park was forced into an early change after an injury to midfielder Nguyen Tuan Anh.

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Vietnam, however, did not look back once they took the lead in controversial fashion six minutes into the second half.

Unhappy Indonesian players argued with the referee that Nguyen Tien Linh had handled the ball before scoring, but their protests were unheeded and Vietnam were quick to put the game to bed with further goals from Nguyen Quang Hai, Nguyen Cong Phuong and Vu Van Thanh. The win gave Vietnam a two-point lead atop Group G ahead of the United Arab Emirates. Hosts UAE, however, could still ruin Vietnam's party after they defeated Thailand 3-1 in the other Group G fixture to maintain pressure.

UAE, Thailand and Malaysia were tied on nine points heading into the matchday, but the Emiratis pulled three points ahead of their rivals with another commanding victory and their meeting with Vietnam at the Zabeel Stadium in their final second-round match on Jun. 15 may decide the winner and runner-up of Group G.

No stopping Syria while China continue damage control

Syria have never been to a World Cup. They were close to making it to Russia in 2018 but fell to Australia in extra-time in the match that decided who represented Asia in the intercontinental playoff. Four years later, they look even stronger and became the second team to book a place in the third round of the qualifiers after a 3-0 win over Guam.

That victory saw undefeated Syria extend their win streak in Group A to seven matches. They have been unperturbed by the loss of striker Omar Al Somah to injury, with Mahmoud Al-Mawas looking to have taken over the goal-scoring duties in his absence -- netting against Guam to follow up on his hat-trick against the Maldives.

Nabil Maaloul's side head into their final second-round fixture on Jun. 15 against China relaxed, but that will not be the case for their opponents. Li Tie's men are still on their road to recovery, and they found it hard to break down a stubborn Philippines defence until Wu Lei gave them the lead from the penalty spot in the 56th minute.

Wu Xinghan sealed China's 2-0 win as they tightened their grip on second place in Group A, but their previous 7-0 thrashing of fifth-placed Guam will not count when determining the rankings of runners-up teams so Team Dragon will need to secure all three points against the Maldives before their crunch clash against Syria.

Three-horse race between Iran, Iraq and Bahrain in Group C

Group C is heading down to the wire, with Iraq, who defeated Cambodia 4-1 on Monday, leading the standings on 14 points, two ahead of Iran.

Bahrain also have 12 points, but they had their qualification hopes dented by a 3-0 defeat by Iran. Bahrain's two rivals will both be in action before they take the field again, and wins for Iran and Iraq, against Cambodia and Hong Kong respectively, will all but end their third-round hopes.

If Iran or Iraq drop points, however, Helio Sousa's men will be ready to pounce -- especially with the group leaders facing each other on the final day while Bahrain have a relatively easier game against Hong Kong.