RIYADH: If Jaloliddin Masharipov was unhappy at being loaned out from Saudi giants Al-Nassr weeks after signing for the club in December, he has not shown it.
After Monday’s performance, perhaps the Riyadh club will be the one feeling miffed as the winger’s quality was there for all to see as he inspired Uzbekistan to a 5-0 win over Singapore in World Cup qualification. It was a result that threw down a gauntlet to Saudi Arabia in Group D.
The 27-year-old was sensational in the first half against the southeast Asians, scoring twice — the first a volley, the second a low missile — to set the White Wolves on route to a much-needed victory that puts them within two points of the Green Falcons.
The two meet in Riyadh in the final game next Tuesday with the likely prize on offer for the victor being first position and an automatic place in the third round of qualification as one of the eight group winners. If it goes badly, then Saudi Arabia will have to hope it is one of the best four second-place finishers.
A number of teams are in similar positions after a busy Monday of World Cup qualification action. Bahrain started the day on top of Group C but slipped down to third after a 3-0 loss to Iran that puts a huge hole in their chances of reaching the next round.
After a tight first half, Iran, inspired by Brentford midfielder Saman Ghoddos, moved up a level after the break. He will not get the headlines though as few, if any, Asian teams have a strike force as potent as Iran’s Sardar Azmoun and Mehdi Taremi and the pair scored three times between them in the second half.
With Iraq defeating Cambodia 4-1 and going two points clear at the top of Group C above Iran, it is likely that the rivals will occupy the top two spots. Who is first and who is second will be decided in their meeting on June 15.
Iraq has been in good form for a while now. Iran had not been, until that second half. With the likes of Taremi and Azmoun, they will not be far away. There will be a lot of big games in the next few days but sparks always fly when the two teams meet as was evident in Iraq’s famous 4-3 win over Iran at the quarter-final stage of the 2015 Asian Cup.
There will be no such drama in Group A. Syria have sewn it up. It is a testament to the talent and resilience of the team that it became just the second after Japan to progress into the third round. The 3-0 win over Guam was expected and ensured a massive eight points above China in Group A.
Seven wins from seven games, 21 scored and four conceded is an impressive record and no team will underestimate Syria especially when all its players, such as Al-Ahli’s star striker Omar Al-Somah, are fit and available.
The UAE, meanwhile, have recovered from successive defeats against Thailand and Vietnam in Group G and their second successive win, a 3-1 victory over the Thais, means that qualification as group winners is still in their hands.
Last week, Ali Mabkhout grabbed the headlines but was guilty of missing chances in this game and it fell to Caio Canedo and Fabio Lima, with his third goal in just his second appearance, to breach the Thai goal in the first half.
The spirited southeast Asians pulled a goal back early in the second half, a very different 45 minutes, to ensure there were plenty of nerves and more missed opportunities but, an injury time goal from Mohammed Jumaa wrapped it all up.
With Vietnam defeating Indonesia 4-0 to stay two points clear at the top, Bert van Marwijk’s men are likely to need all three points against the Golden Stars next week if they want to take first place. It could be a cracker. Vietnam have become a pragmatic, tough nut to crack under Park Hang-seo and similar to his Dutch counterpart, has plenty of talent at his disposal.
Jordan are not going to catch Australia in Group B but stayed on course for second with a comfortable 3-0 win over Nepal, a result that keeps them three points clear of hosts Kuwait. The two meet on Friday, just one of many big games to come.