(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Australia and Iraq became the first two teams to advance to the quarterfinals of the AFC U22 Championship on Tuesday.
While Australia overcame a stubborn Iran 1-0 at the ROP Stadium in a Group C match, Iraq sent out a strong warning to its rivals with an impressive 2-1 win over Uzbekistan in a Group D game at the Seeb Sports Stadium.
Both Australia and Iraq recorded their second successive success in the competition to go on top of their respective groups, with six points each. The quarterfinals are slated for January 19-20.
At the ROP Stadium, it was almost a new Australian outfit that took to the field with coach Aurelio Vidmar sticking to his rotational policy, looking to give all 23 players in the squad an opportunity to play in the tournament.
Australia changed as many as nine players from the eleven that defeated Kuwait in their opener and it would have been ten had Jason Geria not injured himself while warming up ahead of the match.
Only defender Connor Chapman was initially retained in the starting XI, but Geria's injury forced Vidmar to bring in the other defender, Scott Galloway, minutes before the kick-off.
While Vidmar's selection policy was vindicated by the 56th-minute strike from Petros Skapetis, the absence of fresh legs on the bench cost Iran dearly, according to the latter's coach, Human Afazeli.
The Iran coach said after the loss to Australia, ''There was little difference between these two teams, [but] the lack of fitness and poor bench strength cost us [the match]. We just have 20 players here, including three keepers; we didn't have the luxury that the Australian team had. With such a crammed match schedule, there is not much we can do with these limited resources. I am satisfied with my players' efforts and I look forward to the next game [against Kuwait on Thursday].''
Afazeli hit out at the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) scheduling, saying, ''In top competitions like this one, a minimum recovery period of 72 hours is required [after every game]. Unfortunately, it's not the case here.''
Afazeli's Australian counterpart, Vidmar, has a different take on this matter, though. He said, ''I think all the teams can use their bench strength carefully. I want to give all my players equal chance as I believe this tournament serves the purpose of building a team for the Olympic qualifiers (2015 AFC U22 Championship).''
He added, ''We may make another round of changes in the team when we meet Japan on Thursday. For me, it doesn't matter if we finish first or second in the group.''
Meanwhile, at the Seeb Sports Stadium, Iraq went 2-0 up against Uzbekistan before half-time. Marwan al Ajeeli put Iraq ahead in the tenth minute and Mustafa al Shabbani doubled the lead in the 38th minute.
Uzbekistan reduced the margin in the 64th minute through Jamshid Iskanderov.
In a late game at the ROP Stadium, Japan was held to a 0-0 draw by Kuwait to go second in Group C with two points.
Iran and Kuwait have one point each. At Seeb, Saudi Arabia beat China 2-1 in a Group D match to open its account and keep its quarterfinal hopes alive.
Both Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia have three points e