Iran book 2022 FIFA World Cup berth; Japan, South Korea maintain charge

Mehdi Taremi returned from a brief international exile to send Iran through to the 2022 FIFA World Cup with the only goal of the game in Thursday's 1-0 win over Iraq in the final round of Asian qualifiers. EPA/STRINGER

With the third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup now into its final stages, Iran became the first team to book their place at the year-end tournament in Qatar following a 1-0 victory over Iraq on Thursday.

Team Melli, who are guaranteed a top-two finish in Group A following the triumph, can now look forward to a third consecutive World Cup appearance.

- Tom Rogic shows importance to Australia with star turn vs. Vietnam

Fellow continental heavyweights Japan and South Korea both maintained course towards the year-end tournament in Qatar with victories on Thursday.

Japan -- the only Asian side to reach the knockout round at the last World Cup -- cruised to a 2-0 win over China PR, while South Korea, who have qualified for the last nine editions of the competition, faced sterner resistance before claiming a 1-0 victory over Lebanon.

Elsewhere, Australia were also victorious as they saw off Vietnam 4-0, a result that saw the latter become the first side in the 12-team qualifiers to be officially out of the running.

Here, we take a look at the major takeaways from the Match Day 7 action.

Eliminated Vietnam finally show a different dimension

A heavy defeat to the Socceroos may have ended their already-faint hopes of qualifying for the World Cup, but the scoreline failed to reflect the impressive fight shown by Vietnam.

Although they were expected to struggle coming up against more-illustrious opposition in the final round of qualifying, the Vietnamese received their fair share of criticism for a perceived overly-cautious approach from coach Park Hang-seo.

Against Australia, despite missing a handful of seasoned campaigners, Vietnam finally showed greater intent and certainly had their moments, with an eye-catching display from second gamer Pham Tuan Hai suggesting there is reason to be optimistic for the future.

Japan ease to victory despite missing majority of Celtic brigade

Celtic captured the imagination of Japanese football at the start of the January transfer window when they completed the signings of Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi, as they joined Kyogo Furuhashi to form a Samurai Blue quartet at the Scottish giants.

Yet, only Maeda was called up for the current international window although it ultimately mattered little against a Chinese outfit that have flattered to deceive all campaign long.

While the two-goal triumph may not have been a statement performance, it was exactly the kind of fuss-free result that was required -- especially ahead of Tuesday's meeting with Group B leaders Saudi Arabia.

Cho comes good for Bento's Son-less South Korea

South Korea might have one of world football's biggest stars at their disposal in Son Heung-min, but coach Paulo Bento has often been questioned for his reluctance to blood alternative options in attack.

Even when Bordeaux striker Hwang Ui-jo was absent in the previous two qualifiers, Bento continued to ignore Jeju United spearhead Joo Min-kyu, who last season became the K League 1's first local Golden Boot winner in five years after a 22-goal haul.

Instead, Bento appears to be a bigger fan of Cho Gue-sung -- currently plying his trade in South Korea's second tier -- although the 24-year-old did repay the faith shown in him by scoring the only goal of the game against Lebanon in what was only his 7th cap.

Taremi's timely return seals World Cup berth for Iran

Considering he has been one of the most-prolific strikers in the Portuguese Primeira Liga for the past two-and-a-half seasons -- first with Rio Ave and now with giants Porto -- there can be no denying that Mehdi Taremi is a major influence on Iran's fortunes.

So when he was left out of the squad for the previous international window following a clash with coach Dragan Skocic, it was certainly a worrying time for all involved with Team Melli.

With the conflict resolved, Taremi made an immediate return to the national team fold and it proved a timely one, even more so given his usual partner in attack Sardar Azmoun was ruled out due to COVID-19, as he bagged the only goal of the game against Iraq to send his country through to Qatar 2022.