Japan shocked, Vietnam not enough in Asia World Cup qualifiers

The final round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Asia kicked off on Thursday and the results showed just how unpredictable the game can be in the region as 12 nations battle for the four berths available at Qatar 2022.

While Japan and the Korea Republic, two giants of Asian football, suffered huge upsets in their opening matches, Iran and the United Arab Emirates capitalised with crucial wins.

With Matchday 1 in Group A and B of the Asian qualifiers now behind us, we take a look at the things we learnt from all six games that played out across the continent on Thursday...

Ivankovic has Oman dreaming after shocking Japan

Be it Iran, Persepolis, Shandong Luneng or Dinamo Zagreb, Branko Ivankovic has delivered silverware at most teams he has coached. But the Croatian signed up for a different challenge when he took over Oman in January 2020.

Oman are not one of the top teams in Asia, but Ivankovic was quick to state he wants to guide the Reds to their first-ever World Cup. And with a 1-0 upset of Japan in their opener, he now has the country dreaming of the impossible early in the campaign.

The writing was on the wall for Hajime Moriyasu's Japan. Despite hoarding a lion share of possession at the Suita City Stadium, the Samurai Blue hardly managed to trouble a well-organised Oman who defended in numbers and left their opponents frustrated.

Japan were let off early in the second half as the VAR intervened to deny Oman a penalty after the ball had hit Yuto Nagatomo's hand inside the area. Kyogo Furuhashi and Takefusa Kubo did little to improve Japan after coming on in the second half, while Issam Al Sabhi struck at the 88th minute to grasp a memorable win for the Omanis.

While the win is a huge shot in the arm for Ivankovic's side before they face Saudi Arabia, Moriyasu will demand instant improvements from Japan before they face China on Tuesday.

Vietnam have their moment, but Saudi prove too strong

Hanoi might have recorded a mini earthquake had the qualifiers tie between Vietnam and Saudi Arabia took place at the My Dinh Stadium. Just three minutes into the match held on their national day, Nguyen Quang Hai produced a moment of magic to give the ASEAN champions a 1-0 lead.

The Green Falcons produced plenty of chances as they tried to find their way back. But good defense from Que Ngoc Hai and Do Duy Manh kept the home side at bay. That was until Duy Manh received his marching orders in the 54th minute for a handball and Saudi Arabi was awarded a penalty.

They might not have held onto the slender lead with the full complement on the field anyway, but it is fair to say there was only one outcome after they were down to 10 men. Salem Al-Dawsari equalised from the spot before goals from Yasser Al-Shahrani and Saleh Al-Shehri sealed the 3-1 win.

It was a harsh defeat for Vietnam as they made their debut in the final stage of the qualifiers. It was also a match that made it clear the arduous path Park Hang-seo and his men have to navigate over the coming months as they take on some of Asia's best.

China have no answer to Arnold's Socceroos in opener

Perhaps the biggest disappointment as the qualifiers resumed was Li Tie's China who offered no resistance to Graham Arnold's Australia on their way to a 3-0 defeat at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

Making their first appearance in the final round since 2002, China are expected to challenge top teams like Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia for a World Cup berth from Group B. But if their performance against the Socceroos is any indication, those hopes may be terribly misplaced.

Goals from Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle and Mitchell Duke gave Australia the perfect start to their Qatar 2022 bid, but Team Dragon's display will alarm the fans and pundits alike as they ended the 90 minutes without a single shot on target despite having seasoned attackers Wu Lei and Elkeson in their starting 11.

No way past a resolute Iraq for Bento's South Korea

While neighbours Japan never really got going in their defeat, it was not for the lack of trying for South Korea. Iraq held the Reds to a goalless draw at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in their Group A opener.

It was a defensive masterclass from Dick Advocaat's Iraq who restricted South Korea to a few clear cut chances despite them enjoying close to 70% of possession -- the biggest chance came when Mainz attacker Lee Jae-sung blazed over from close range in the 26th minute.

With a dogged display, the Lions of Mesopotamia have shown they will not be mere pushovers in the group. But an injury to left-back Ali Adnan who had to be replaced in the second period will be a cause of concern for the Iraqis before their next game against Iran.

However, it will not all be all gloom for them as Aris Thessaloniki striker Mohanad Ali and Real Salt Lake's Justin Meram, who only featured in the final minutes on Thursday, should be available to play larger roles on Tuesday after flying in late for the qualifiers.

Jahanbakhsh the saviour for Iran in Azmoun absence

With Zenit striker Sardar Azmoun suspended for the opener due to two yellow cards from the previous round, Dragan Skocic had to turn to FC Porto striker Mehdi Taremi and wingers Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Ali Gholizadeh for attacking impetus.

And against an impressive Syria, the attacking trio combined to secure the only goal of the game as Gholizadeh found Taremi who laid the ball off to Jahanbakhsh who rifled a first-time shot past goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma in the 56th minute.

On a day when rivals South Korea and UAE dropped points, Team Melli should be pleased with their precious, albeit scrappy, three points. With Azmoun soon returning to bolster their attack, Skocic's side have something to build on.

Lebanon battle the odds to steal point against UAE

In only their second appearance in this stage of the qualification, Lebanon managed to hold UAE to a goalless draw at the Zabeel Stadium in Dubai. Credit must go to Ivan Hasek and his men for pulling off such a result in circumstances they find themselves in.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the Lebanese camp during the third round with at least eight players testing positive in the build-up. This includes their first-choice goalkeeper Mehdi Khalil and centre-back Nour Mansour.

Despite the crisis, the Cedars still managed to keep a potent front three of Ali Mabkhout, Fabio Lima and Caio Canedo silent for 90 minutes. The Lebanese could prove to be a tough nut to crack in Group A and could play a key role in deciding who will make it to Qatar from the pool.