Syria joined Japan in the third round of World Cup qualifying from Asia after a first-half double by Mardak Mardikian helped them beat Guam 3-0 and confirm their top position in Group A on Monday.
Syria’s seventh win in as many matches ensured they would be among the 12 teams competing in the next phase of qualifying for four confirmed spots from Asia in next year’s tournament in Qatar. A fifth team from the continent could make the cut via an intercontinental play-off.
Mardikian took advantage of a poor headed clearance by Alexander Lee to slam the ball past Guam goalkeeper Dallas Jaye in the sixth minute to put the Syrians ahead at the Sharjah Stadium.
The 29-year-old striker doubled his side’s lead just three minutes later with a spectacular flying volley from a Khaled Kerdagli cross that found the top corner of Jaye’s net.
Mahmoud al-Mawas, who scored a hat-trick against the Maldives on Friday, then made it 3-0 late in the match as it was mission accomplished for Nabil Maloul’s men.
Also in Group A, China beat the Philippines 2-0 for their fourth win in six matches but with 13 points they trail Syria by eight and can only hope to make the grade as one of the four best second-placed teams.
In Group C, Iraq thrashed Cambodia 4-1 to go top with 14 points from six matches, while Iran hammered Bahrain 3-0 to climb to second, two behind the leaders.
Mohannad Ali, Bashar Rasan and Ali Adnan struck in the first half for Iraq and Safaa Hadi finished off proceedings with a goal in second-half stoppage time.
Iran were served well by Sardar Azmoun’s second-half brace with Mehdi Taremi completing the rout with a late strike.
The UAE kept their chances alive in Group G with a convincing 3-1 victory over Thailand in Dubai.
The Emiratis however trail leaders Vietnam who saw off Indonesia 4-0 to take their tally to 14.
– Minamino levels Honda –
Earlier in the day, Japan conceded their first goal of World Cup qualifying but still recovered to beat Tajikistan 4-1.
Japan, who were already assured of first place in Group F, took the lead against second-place Tajikistan through a sixth-minute goal from Kyogo Furuhashi.
But Ehsoni Panjshanbe headed in an equaliser three minutes later, the Japanese defence breached for the first time in seven qualifiers.
Takumi Minamino put Japan back in front, extending his scoring streak to a seventh straight World Cup qualifier.
First international goals for Kento Hashimoto and Hayao Kawabe then made the game safe for Japan, who have scored 41 goals in Group F with only one conceded.
With his seven-game scoring run, Liverpool forward Minamino — who spent last season on loan at Southampton — tied a national record set by Japan hero Keisuke Honda.
He finished off a pass from former school-mate Furuhashi, who was making his first start for Japan.
“I’m happy to draw level with such a great player,” said Minamino.
Tajikistan retained second place after Kyrgyzstan lost 1-0 to Mongolia earlier in the day.
Elsewhere Jordan beat Nepal 3-0 to keep the heat on leaders Australia, India beat Bangladesh 2-0 and World Cup hosts Qatar edged out Oman 1-0.