DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (AP) — After a 16-month hiatus, World Cup qualifying in Asia resumed Thursday when Tajikistan defeated Mongolia 3-0.
The second round of Asia’s qualification tournament should have been completed in June 2020 but games were repeatedly postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tajikistan scored early when Manuchekhr Dzhalilov headed in a cross. Alisher Dzhalilov and Shahrom Samiev netted in the second half before a lively crowd of 14,000 at the Central Republican Stadium in Dushanbe.
Tajikistan trails leader Japan by two points in Group F. Mongolia was eliminated but travels to Japan for Tuesday’s qualifier.
Japan warmed up with a friendly against South Korea in Yokohama, defeating the visitors 3-0 in front of 8,356 masked fans who were asked to refrain from cheering.
Miki Yamane and Daichi Kamada scored in the first half, and Wataru Endo added a third late in the game.
“Our buildup to this game was not easy," Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. "The players did a good job of concentrating on their tasks and preparing themselves. The staff, too, had it hard preparing in these difficult circumstances, but all that effort paid off in today’s result.”
South Korea was missing several key players, including injured Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, but it was still a disappointing result for coach Paulo Bento.
“We didn’t play anywhere close to the way we wanted to play,” Bento said. “We committed too many mistakes, especially in dangerous areas. We were more aggressive in the second half, but the opponents were better. They deserved to win.”
Also Tuesday, Saudi Arabia plays Palestine in the third qualifier to take place in March with the rest of the second round concluding in June.
The eight group winners and four best-performing second-placed teams will progress to the third round of qualification, scheduled to start in September.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports