By Michael Church
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Syria maintained their perfect start to the second of round of Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over the Philippines that keeps Fajr Ibrahim’s side in pole position to advance to the next phase.
The Syrians, who narrowly missed out on a place at the finals in Russia last year despite the ongoing civil war at home, claimed all three points in Dubai as a result of Ward Salama’s goal midway through the first half.
Ibrahim’s side have now won five games in a row and lead Group A by eight points from China, who did not play on Tuesday, and the Philippines.
The winners of each of the eight groups plus the four best runners-up advance to the next phase of qualifying, which will commence in September next year.
Vietnam saw their lead at the top of Group G trimmed to two points after Park Hang-seo’s side were held to a 0-0 draw by Thailand as Malaysia moved into second in the group due to their 2-0 victory over Indonesia.
The Malaysians moved into second in the group thanks to a brace from Safawi Rashid – including a superb free kick to open the scoring – at a packed Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
Vietnam have 11 points while Malaysia are ahead of Thailand on nine points, one more than Akira Nishino’s side. Top seeds the United Arab Emirates, who did not play on Tuesday, are in fourth with six points.
Iraq and Bahrain played out a scoreless draw that leaves Srecko Katanec’s Iraqis in top spot in Group C, two points ahead of Bahrain and a further three clear of Iran. Hong Kong picked up their first win of the campaign with a 2-0 victory over Cambodia.
Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan both have on seven points in Group F after they shared a 1-1 draw in Bishkek after Tamirlan Kozubaev struck seven minutes from time to earn the home side a point.
Both nations are five points behind group leaders Japan, who did not play on Tuesday and have a game in hand, while Myanmar pulled themselves back into contention for second spot with their 1-0 win over Mongolia.
Uzbekistan bounced back from their late loss against Saudi Arabia last week with a 2-0 win over Palestine in Group D while Asian champions Qatar needed a late Akram Afif penalty to see off Afghanistan in Group E.
Turkmenistan defeated Sri Lanka 2-0 to top Group H on nine points. Lebanon and North Korea moved level with South Korea on eight points following their scoreless draw.
Kuwait kept their hopes in Group B alive with a 1-0 win over Nepal and are level on 10 points with Jordan, who beat Chinese Taipei 5-0. The pair are two points behind leaders Australia.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Christian Radnedge)