Qatar and North Korea took giant strides towards the final phase of Asian World Cup qualifying Saturday but there was heartache for China whose miserable campaign went from bad to worse.
Japan fought out a 1-1 draw with Oman in Muscat, but it was less than impressive from the three-time Asian champions.
The Japanese, boosted by former coach Ivica Osim joining the team as a advisor after recovering from a serious stroke, needed a 53rd minute strike from Yasuhito Endo to cancel out Ahmed Mubarak's goal after 11 minutes.
It leaves them on seven points in Group 2 with Oman on four. The result means tiny Bahrain will make the next stage of qualifying if they beat Thailand later Saturday.
Uzbekistan will also progress if they take three points off Singapore in Tashkent.
Qatar scored a crucial 1-0 victory over China in Tianjin, with a Sebastian Soria penalty all that separated the sides.
It left the Chinese World Cup dreams in tatters and coach Vladamir Petrovic's job on the line.
Qatar are now on seven points in Group 1 alongside Australia, who play later in the day against Iraq in Dubai.
China trail them by four points with just two games left to play and need to win against Iraq next weekend and the Socceroos later this month to have any hope of making the final phase of qualifying.
"We are very happy because we take three very important points... but it is also very important to remember that we have not yet qualified," Qatar's Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati told journalists.
"We are better than yesterday, but I hope that after we play Australia we will be in a better position than today."
A dejected Petrovic admitted he could be facing the sack.
"If there are problems, really because we lost the match, it is not the players' fault, if someone must leave then I can leave this team," the Serb said.
China's night was made worse when Sun Jihai was shown a red card on the bench for remonstrating with the referee late in the game as frustrations spilled over at Qatar's time-wasting tactics.
Choe Kum-Chul scored the only goal as North Korea significantly boosted their hopes of reaching the final round with a 1-0 win over Turkmenistan in Pyongyang.
The North Korean striker delighted the crowd of 25,000 at Kim Il Sung Stadium, netting the winner 18 minutes from time to give the home side their second victory in Group 3.
It puts them on top of the group with eight points, three clear of neighbours South Korea, who could draw level again with a win in Jordan later on Saturday.
Turkmenistan's hopes of progressing are all but over with just one point from four matches
In Group 5, Iran are in trouble on three points, two behind Syria and the United Arab Emirates, with Ali Daei's team needing to beat the UAE in Abu Dhabi to stay in the hunt. Syria travel to Kuwait.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.