By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Sardar Azmoun struck twice and Mehdi Taremi added a third as Iran defeated hosts Bahrain 3-0 on Monday to reignite their challenge for a place in the third round of Asia's qualifying tournament for the 2022 World Cup.
The Iranians moved above Bahrain into second place in Group C, level on 12 points with their opponents despite having played one game fewer.
Iraq continue to lead the group after securing a comfortable 4-1 win over Cambodia, Mohanad Ali opening the scoring for Srecko Katanec's side after 18 seconds.
The winners of the eight groups advance to the next phase, where they will be joined by the five best runners-up after Qatar sealed first place in Group E with a 1-0 win over Oman.
Qatar's status as World Cup hosts means they are not eligible to play in the third phase, leaving Japan and Syria, who sealed top spot in Group A on Monday with a 3-0 win over Guam, as the only teams certain of a place in the next round.
Iran moved a step closer after Azmoun put them ahead against Bahrain in the 54th minute when he latched on to Taremi's through ball.
The same pair combined seven minutes later to double their advantage and Taremi added the third 11 minutes from time as Iran won for the fourth time in six qualifiers.
China enhanced their hopes of taking the runners-up spot behind Syria in Group A with a 2-0 win over the Philippines that was secured by second-half goals from Wu Lei and Wu Xinghan.
Vietnam remain top of Group G after they crushed Indonesia 4-0 while the United Arab Emirates moved into sole possession of second place with a 3-1 win over Thailand.
Naturalised Brazilians Caio and Fabio de Lima gave the UAE a two-goal lead at halftime before Thailand's 18-year-old striker Suphanat Mueanta pulled one back, only for Mohammed Jumaa to put the result beyond doubt in stoppage-time.
Uzbekistan kept Group D leaders Saudi Arabia in sight with a 5-0 win over Singapore as Jaloliddin Masharipov struck twice for Vahid Abramov's side, who are now two points off the summit.
Australia, meanwhile, moved to the verge of booking their spot in the next round with a 5-1 rout of Chinese Taipei, and they lead Group B by five points from Jordan, who beat Nepal 3-0.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Ed Osmond)