HONG KONG: South Korea’s Son Heung-min scored twice and set up the third in a 3-0 win over China as Asia’s top sides claimed victories in the second round of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

Japan, Australia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia all won, while Kuwait and North Korea scored a flurry of goals en route to victories.

Australia and Palestine players stood for a minute’s silence ahead of their game, which was played in Kuwait due to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Son was in top form as South Korea completed back-to-back wins at the start of their challenge for a place at the 2026 finals.

He put the Koreans in front in the Group C clash in the second phase of Asia’s preliminaries when he steered an 11th-minute penalty to the right of Chinese goalkeeper Yan Junling.

He added the second in the 45th minute with a header following Lee Kang-in’s corner before turning provider three minutes from time when he drifted in a free kick that Jung Seung-hyun headed past Yan to seal the victory.

The win maintains the Koreans’ perfect record after two games in the second round of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup and was China’s first defeat after winning against Thailand on Thursday.

The Thais bounced back from that loss to beat Singapore 3-1 with Suphanat Mueanta scoring twice in the second half for Mano Polking’s team, who move level with China on three points.

Japan also recorded a second successive win with Ayase Ueda scoring twice in a 5-0 thrashing of Syria in Jeddah that gives Hajime Moriyasu’s side a three-point lead over North Korea and the Syrians in Group B.

Jong Il Gwan scored a hat-trick as North Korea picked up their first win of the campaign with a 6-1 thrashing of Myanmar in Yangon having started their quest for a place at the finals last Thursday with a loss against Syria.

Harry Souttar scored the only goal in Australia’s 1-0 win over Palestine in Group I, which was played in Kuwait’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium due to the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

Players held a minute’s silence ahead of kickoff before Souttar scored the game’s only goal with an 18th-minute header.

Australia are top of the group with six points, four ahead of Lebanon who drew 1-1 with Bangladesh.

Second-half goals from Oston Orunov and Igor Sergeev saw Uzbekistan fight back from a two-goal halftime deficit to draw 2-2 with Iran in Group E, leaving both teams on four points, three ahead of Hong Kong and Turkmenistan following their 2-2 draw.

Mohanad Ali scored six minutes into injury time to earn Iraq a 1-0 win over hosts Vietnam in Group F as Jesus Casas’ side moved onto six points.

Vietnam remain second in the group standings after the Philippines and Indonesia shared a 1-1 draw in Manila.

Substitute Darren Lok claimed the only goal as Malaysia defeated Taiwan for their second win in Group D while Kyrgyzstan won 1-0 against Oman to join the Gulf side on three points.

Qatar won their second game in a row with a 3-0 defeat of India in Group A and Yemen picked up their first victory in Group H with a 2-0 win over Nepal.

Tajikistan downed Pakistan 6-1 with Amadoni Kamolov hitting a brace in Islamabad in Group G, while Saudi Arabia’s Saleh Al Shehri scored twice in a 2-0 win over Jordan, who sit third in the group with just one point after two matches.

Also maintaining a perfect record in Group H were United Arab Emirates with a 2-0 victory over Bahrain after a powerful first-half strike from Abdalla Bekheet and a penalty a minute from fulltime which Ali Mabkhout converted.

Kuwait, meanwhile, thrashed Afghanistan 4-0 away to move into second place in Group A behind Qatar.

The qualifying games will resume in March next year.

In Africa . . .

Ghana and South Africa both suffered embarrassing defeats in World Cup qualification while top contenders Cameroon, Guinea, Senegal and Zambia also found it tough on the road as they all dropped points.

On a busy day of 15 matches across the continent, there were also wins for Burkina Faso, the Cape Verde Islands, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia and Uganda.

But it was the Comoros, with a population of around a million, and Rwanda, ranked 140 in world football, who tore up the form book in beating Ghana and South Africa respectively.

Ghana’s loss in Moroni was a harsh reminder of their humiliation almost two years ago when the Indian Ocean islanders beat them at the African Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon to send then home early. French-born attacker Myziane Maolida scored the game’s only goal this time, his second in successive matches.

Earlier South Africa were beaten 2-0 in Rwanda on a water-soaked pitch in Butare as a 12th-minute opener from Innocent Nshuti was followed by a second for Gilbert Mugisha 14 minutes later.

It was Rwanda’s first victory in their last 11 home matches and took them top of Group C, where they lead not only South Africa but also Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Senegal, who have qualified for the last two World Cups, went top of Group B despite being held to a goalless draw in Togo while Guinea lost 1-0 away to Botswana in Group G, where Uganda also picked up points by beating Somalia 1-0 after scoring early through Rogers Mato.

In Group D, Cameroon were held to a 1-1 draw by hosts Libya while Mauritius drew 0-0 at home with Angola but the Cape Verde Islands won 2-0 away at Eswatini.

Zambia lost 2-1 away against Niger in Group E after conceding two early goals before captain Patson Daka pulled one back in the second half.

Morocco, semi-finalists at the World Cup in Qatar a year ago, overcame 10-man Tanzania 2-0 in front of a 60,000 strong crowd in Dar-es-Salaam, scoring with a long-range effort from Hakim Ziyech that the home team’s debutant goalkeeper spilt and an own goal in the second half.

Burkina Faso recorded the largest victory margin of the day with the English-based pair of Bertrand Traore and Dango Ouattara both scoring in the 3-0 away win over Ethiopia.

Tunisia’s captain Youssef Msakni converted a penalty two minutes from time to secure a 1-0 away win over Malawi in Lilongwe and make it two wins out of two in Group H where Namibia picked up their first points by beating Sao Tome e Principe 2-0.

The next round of African qualifiers will be played in June, with the continent now turning its focus to January’s Cup of Nations finals in the Ivory Coast.