SEOUL, South Korea — Australia resumed its World Cup qualifying campaign after a break of 19 months to defeat Kuwait 3-0 on Thursday and maintain its perfect record in Group B of Asia’s second round.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced a lengthy delay in the campaign, it took less than one minute for Mathew Leckie to head in the opening goal on a sweltering evening in Kuwait City. Jackson Irvine extended Australia’s lead midway through the first half, firing home the rebound after Martin Boyle’s penalty miss. Eintracht Frankfurt’s Adjin Hrustic netted the third with a free kick in the 66th minute as Australia sealed a fifth win in five games.
Australia moves five points ahead of Kuwait and Jordan with three games remaining and can seal its place in the third round of qualification with wins over Taiwan and Nepal this month. Only the eight group winners are guaranteed a place in the next stage, which starts in September, along with the four best second-placed teams.
Ali Mabkhout of the United Arab Emirates scored twice in a 4-0 win over Malaysia in Group G to become the second highest active goalscorer in international soccer, above Lionel Messi.
The striker now has 73 goals for his country, two more than Messi has managed so far with Argentina and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo’s 103 goals for Portugal. Ali Daei of Iran is the leading international scorer of all time with 109 goals.
“We made a strong return to qualification after a long break,” UAE coach Bert Van Marwijk said. “We have to keep performing in the same way to achieve our goal of reaching the next stage.”
With Thailand drawing 2-2 with Indonesia in Group G, UAE moved second, two points behind leader Vietnam with three games to play.
After losing its previous two games in Group C, Iran defeated Hong Kong 3-1 to keep its chances of a third successive World Cup appearance alive. Goals from Ali Gholizadeh, Vahid Amiri and Karim Ansarifard secured the three points to keep Iran third on nine points, two points behind Iraq in second. Bahrain moved a point clear at the top by thrashing Cambodia 8-0.
In Group E, Qatar defeated India 1-0 to go seven points clear of Oman in second while Afghanistan drew 1-1 with Bangladesh. The Palestinian team defeated Singapore 4-0 to climb out of last place in Group D.