Fans in Asia have had a long wait for international football to return in full flow. But after an 18-month delay, the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint-Qualifiers resumed across the continent and it did not fail to entertain.
There were crucial wins for Asian powerhouses like the United Arab Emirates and IR Iran while it was a night of disappointment for the likes of Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. We were treated to plenty of goals -- none more so than in Bahrain's 8-0 rout of Cambodia.
The results made the race for World Cup qualification even more interesting as we head toward the final matchdays. We take a look at the major talking points as ASEAN sides endured a night to forget in the World Cup qualifiers in Asia
Nishino's Thailand are still stick in the rut
Akira Nishino and Thailand resumed their World Cup qualification campaign against Indonesia at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. On paper, it was the easiest of the remaining fixtures for Changsuek as they took on an Indonesia side that had failed to register any points so far in the competition. A win could have seen Thailand leapfrog Vietnam to the top of Group G.
Thailand held to a 2-2 draw by a spirited Indonesia who were playing for pride. It began well for the Thais as Narubadin Weerawatnodom pulled them ahead in the fifth minute, but Kadek Agung equalised for Garuda in the 39th minute, thanks to a brilliant assist from Syahrian Abimanyu.
Adisak Kraisorn headed home to restore the advantage for the War Elephants five minutes into the second half, but Indonesia fought back to earn a point through captain Evan Dimas. Nishino's side now find themselves not at the summit of the table, but in deep trouble as their hopes of progression start to fade.
Thailand had collected seven points from their first three qualifiers, posting an impressive 2-1 victory over UAE in the process. However, their form has dipped since as they fell to a disappointing defeat to Malaysia and a stalemate against Vietnam before the tournament was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Indonesia coach Shin Tae-yong deserves credit for making his players believe after a horrendous first half of the qualifiers where they failed to open their account in five games.
Thailand are now in a tricky third place in the group with nine points -- two behind leaders Vietnam and level with UAE, both of whom have a game in hand. With games against UAE and Malaysia remaining, Nishino's men can't afford any more slip-ups or they could risk missing out on a place in the final 12.
A wake-up call for Malaysia after a crushing defeat to UAE
Malaysia went into the tournament restart sitting second in Group G with nine points from five matches. Back-to-back victories against Thailand and Indonesia had put them in good stead for the second half of the campaign, but the loss against UAE at Zabeel Stadium piled the pressure back on the ASEAN side.
Tan Cheng Hoe's squad lined up in a new look against the hosts by fielding three naturalised players in the starting 11 -- Guilherme De Paula, Liridon Krasniqi and Mohamadou Sumareh -- while FC Midtjylland defender Dion Cools debuted as part of FA Malaysia's naturalisation drive.
However, Bert van Marwijk's UAE proved to be far too superior even for a bolstered Malaysia team as they crashed to a 4-0 defeat. Ali Mabkhout and Fabio Lima both netted twice for the Emiratis to strengthen their hold in the group while Malaysia failed to score and slipped into fourth place.
Harimau Malaya now have games against Vietnam and Thailand remaining in the second round. All is not lost for Cheng Hoe's men, but they will need their players to be at the top of their games to give themselves a chance to advance to the third round by finishing in the top two spots.
Singapore have work cut out after defeat to Palestine
Singapore had proven to be a tough nut to crack during their World Cup Qualifiers in 2019. They recorded wins against both Yemen and Palestine to sit at a respectable third place with seven points from five games in a group where Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan lead with 11 and nine points respectively.
Their recent run even had Tatsuma Yoshida's side dreaming of a place in the third round of the qualification tournament. But it all came crashing down after the 4-0 defeat to Palestine -- a team that the Lions had beaten 2-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in September 2019.
Tamer Seyam scored twice from the penalty spot while Oday Dabbagh and Yaser Hamed also struck as Singapore defence failed to keep out a resurgent Palestine side. A win would have given Singapore a fighting chance to challenge for second. Instead, they now have face the group's leaders with Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan up next.