Another UAE Panenka nightmare for Japan while Australia cruise past Iraq

If you want to make friends with football fans in Japan in the near future it's probably best not to mention the United Arab Emirates or Panenka penalties -- though a reference to needing goalline technology will be well-received.

Emotions are running high in the Land of the Rising Sun after losing 2-1 at home to UAE on Thursday evening in the opening game of the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. Losing the first game in Group B was not part of the Saitama Stadium script but at least there are nine games remaining.

Japan don't usually do excitement and controversy when it comes to qualifying for the World Cup. Since their debut in 1998, the roads to all the subsequent tournaments have been fairly smooth.

At the 2015 Asian Cup, UAE knocked Japan out at the quarterfinal stage. It went to penalties and few will forget UAE star Omar Abdulrahman scoring a Panenka to send the defending champions towards the exit. Japan fans certainly remember. The playmaker was the only member of the opposition jeered ahead of kick-off but it was another of the team's growing number of stars who did the damage.

Ahmad Khalil was the man who stepped up for the Middle Easterners after Keisuke Honda headed the hosts into an 11th minute lead, taking advantage of some poor defending.

Nine minutes later Khalil fired home a fine free kick although goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa should have done a little better.

Then early in the second half, the Al Ahli striker, as cool as the kids in nearby Harajuku, chipped his spot kick over Japan's No. 1 and that was it. Well almost.

A shot from Takuma Asano looked to have crossed the line but was not given.

Honda was less than happy. "I had a good look at it and I know it went in," said the AC Milan man after the game. "Of course I'm not trying to say that the result hinged only on that one incident. But when you're playing against improved teams in the final round of the Asian qualifiers and every game is difficult, I would like to see things done at a certain level."

The UAE won't care after one of the best results in their history. Now they race home to host Australia while Japan go to Bangkok where nothing less than a win will do against Thailand who narrowly lost 1-0 in Saudi Arabia.

Australia kicked off their campaign with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 win over Iraq in Perth. Massimo Luongo opened the scoring just before the hour and Tomi Juric added a second just after.

There was much more excitement in Seoul. Chinese football has been making plenty of headlines of late due to the spending of its clubs but here was a chance for the national team to get in on the act.

A visit to South Korea was always going to be tough. China have beaten the Taeguk Warriors just once in 30 previous meetings but there was a healthy contingent of yellow-shirted away fans in Seoul hoping that to see a second win. They didn't have too much to cheer, at least until the end.

The hosts dominated possession and took a first half lead thanks to a Zheng Zhi own goal. Second half strikes from Lee Chung-yong and Koo Ja-cheol had the home fans purring.

With 20 minutes remaining, China were 3-0 down and looked well-beaten, Korea were enjoying themselves and the supporters were wondering whether Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-Min was going to get on the scoresheet and he almost did in spectacular fashion.

But then with 16 minutes left, there was a mistake in the box from Oh Jae-Suk and Yu Hai pounced and pulled one back. Three minutes later, former Schalke midfielder Hao Junmin curled home a free kick and as Korea coach Uli Stielike said after the game, suddenly his players were all over the place. Another goal from China and a 3-3 draw would have felt like the biggest of wins and one can only wonder what the Korean media would have made of it.

China huffed and puffed but were unable to get the goal though there was plenty of tension inside the stadium.

Korea were mightily relieved to hear the final whistle and both teams left the field both satisfied and frustrated. The hosts were delighted with the points but annoyed that a comfortable stroll had become a desperate battle. China were delighted with the fight-back but less than happy at conceding the three goals.

The victors head to Malaysia and a game with Syria while China face a short trip back to the Middle Kingdom and the north-eastern city of Shenyang to face Iran.

Iran needed two injury-time goals from Reza Ghoochannejhad, who took advantage of a disastrous goakeeping error, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh to defeat Qatar 2-0 in front of almost 80,000 in Tehran. Carlos Queiroz's men now face a mammoth journey to the opposite end of the continent for the game on Tuesday.

In the other game in Group A, Uzbekistan defeated Syria 1-0. Old warhorse Alexander Geynrikh got the only goal of the game with 16 minutes remaining.