The heavyweights all cleared the first hurdle in Asia's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying section as brave challenges from a number of underdogs fell short at the weekend. The favourites showed no mercy as they cruised to one-sided victories, with China PR leading the way by putting four unanswered goals past Myanmar to complete an 11-0 aggregate success.
Joining China in qualifying for the next stage were Uzbekistan, who built on their 9-0 first leg win over Chinese Taipei with a 2-0 away win, and Hong Kong, who followed up a slender 3-2 defeat of Timor Leste with a convincing 8-1 triumph in front of their own fans.
Morale-boost for Petrovic
Having won 7-0 on home soil, China were all but assured of progressing ahead of Sunday's return leg. As a result, coach Vladimir Petrovic took the opportunity to test a selection of youngsters as he changed almost the entire starting line-up, with only Zhuang Shuai retaining his place in the side that swept to victory in Foshan.
The Serbian tactician would certainly have been pleased with the start made by his new-look team, who took the lead after only 12 minutes, Wu Weian heading home Hao Junmin's inch-perfect cross from close range. Only two minutes later, the advantage was doubled when Liu Jian fired a low drive into Myanmar's goal. Midfielder Zheng Bin made it 3-0 after 34 minutes before Zhang Yaokun sealed a 4-0 win with a spot-kick four minutes before the break.
Despite the outcome, the fact that his team failed to breach their opponent's rearguard for the entire second half left Petrovic worried about his task, which is guiding the Chinese through to just their second FIFA World Cup finals. "We played good football for only 20 minutes in this game," he said afterwards. "Such an attitude will cost us dear when we play against a stronger side because a football game will not be decided until after 90 minutes."
Dark horses disappoint
Most potential dark horses failed to produce an upset, including Vietnam, who saw their qualifying dreams shattered by a 5-0 loss at the hands of nemesis United Arab Emirates.
UAE managed only a 1-0 win in their first leg meeting but, cheered on by their home supporters in Abu Dhabi, Ismail Matar opened scoring after only 13 minutes for Bruno Metsu's side and Ahmad Al Mahri doubled their lead five minutes before the break. The west Asians continued to dominate in the second half and goals from Mohamed Al Shehhi, Nawaf Al Darmaki and Saeed Al Kass sealed an emphatic victory and a place in the next stage.
With the set of matches absent of an upset, it was two South Asia outsiders that gave the most impressive accounts of themselves. Despite playing with little hope of advancing following a 7-0 defeat by Iraq in their first leg, Pakistan claimed a 0-0 draw to earn the respect of their rivals.For their part, Maldives, who lost their first leg 3-0 to Yemen, came close to pulling off a shock by beating Yemen 2-0 at home, although ultimately the result proved sufficient for the west Asians to advance.