Australia marched into the third and final phase of Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup after a 3-0 win over Nepal saw them comfortably top Group B with a game to spare on Friday
The Socceroos (Australia) overwhelming favourites to win the group, took their tally to 21 points in an unbeaten run of seven matches, leaving Jordan and Kuwait to battle for second place on a hectic day in the Covid-19 impacted competition.
Australia became the third team to make the third round after Japan and Syria had sealed their places by topping their respective groups earlier.
Mathew Leckie gave Australia a sixth-minute lead with a fine header off an Aziz Behich cross, before Croatia-born Fran Karacic struck in the 38th minute from Leckie’s pass to help Graham Arnold’s men consolidate their advantage.
Considering their lack of any footballing pedigree — they are ranked 171st in the FIFA rankings compared to Australia’s 41st — Nepal acquitted themselves well with a plucky display throughout the match at the Jaber al-Ahmad International Stadium in Kuwait City.
But that was the best Nepal could do as Scottish-born winger Martin Boyle’s 58th-minute strike from close range off a Jackson Irvine pass ensured the Aussies a comfortable win and a ticket to the next round.
Earlier, Iran hammered Cambodia 10-0 for their fifth win in seven matches to keep their battle with Iraq going in their quest for top spot in Group C.
Kaveh Rezaei scored a second-half brace in the match that saw eight other Iranians finding the net at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa.
Iran’s fifth victory in seven games took their tally to 15 at the top, but less than an hour later Iraq pipped Hong Kong 1-0 to reclaim the group lead with 17 points.
Mohamed Qasem scored the only goal of the match in the 13th minute for Iraq.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia are just one point away from topping Group D after clinching a 3-0 win over Singapore, with all the goals coming late in the second half.
Singapore stonewalled the Saudis for most of the match before Salem al-Dawsari broke the deadlock in the 83rd minute with a right-footed shot from the centre of the box.
Three minutes later, Fahad al-Muwallad made it 2-0 before Sahel al-Shehri finished off proceedings with a low shot in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
Also in Group D, Uzbekistan pipped Yemen 1-0 to keep the pressure on the Saudis.
The table-toppers will be decided next week when both teams square off in Riyadh.
Elsewhere, Kyrgyzstan thrashed Myanmar 8-1, Philippines outclassed Guam 3-0, Oman defeated Afghanistan 2-1, the UAE thrashed Indonesia 5-0, Vietnam pipped Malaysia 2-1, China hammered Maldives 5-0 and Kuwait held Jordan 0-0.