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Bangkok: Thailand scored twice in the last ten minutes as the reigning ASEAN champions overturned a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 with 2007 AFC Asian Cup winners Iraq on Thursday and remain top in Group F of the joint-qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup/2019 AFC Asian Cup.

After kicking-off their qualifying campaign with a 5-1 defeat of Chinese Taipei last Thursday, Iraq appeared to be heading towards their second win after goals from Justin Hikmat Azeez and skipper Younis Mahmoud had the West Asians leading 2-0 going into the final ten minutes.

However, Theerathon Bunmathan’s 80th minute penalty and a Mongkol Tossakrai effort three minutes later saw Kiattisuk Senamuang’s side earn a share of the spoils and remain undefeated int he qualifiers following wins over Vietnam and Chinese Taipei.

Justin Hikmat Azeez silenced the home crowd with ten minutes of the first-half remaining when the USA-born forward - who is known as Justin Meram when playing for Columbus Crew in the MLS - scored his second international goal following his maiden strike in the victory over Chinese Taipei.

Veteran skipper Younis Mahmoud, who netted the winner as Iraq defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 to lift the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, made it 2-0 just four minutes into the second half as the Lions of Mesopotamia looked on track to make it two wins out of two in the qualifiers.

However, with ten minutes remaining Buriram United midfielder Theerathon Bunmathan reduced the deficit from the penalty spot before Mongkol Tossakrai netted the equaliser just three minutes after the Thai skipper had given the ASEAN champions an 80th minute lifeline.

The point was Thailand’s seventh of the campaign and keeps them in pole position, three clear of second-placed Iraq who themselves are one point ahead of Vietnam, who picked up their first win of the campaign with a 2-1 victory in Chinese Taipei.

The group winners and four best runners-up (total 12 teams) will advance to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals and the final round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The next best 24 teams from the preliminary stage of the joint qualifiers will compete in a separate competition for the remaining slots (12 slots or 11 slots + 1 slot for the host) in the 24-team 2019 Asian Cup.

Photo: AFP