Akram Afif scored twice as Asian champions Qatar defeated Kuwait 3-0 in Doha on Thursday to maintain their perfect start to the second round of the continent's preliminaries for the 2026 World Cup.

Afif, wearing the captain's armband after Hassan Al-Haydos announced his international retirement at the weekend, opened and closed the scoring for Marquez Lopez's side as Qatar moved on to nine points from three Group A matches.

The Al-Sadd forward tapped in from close range two minutes into the second half to put Qatar in front and Ahmed Al-Rawi doubled the lead four minutes later when he pounced on a rebound after Sulaiman Abdulghafoor had spilled a long-range shot.

Afif also saw his shot kept out by Abdulghafoor in the 68th minute only to score at the second attempt and put the seal on Qatar's win.

The win moves the Asian Cup holders five points clear at the top of the group standings, with India in second after a 0-0 draw with Afghanistan.

The first two finishers in each of the nine groups advance to the next stage of determining which nations will take Asia's eight guaranteed berths at the 48-team World Cup in Mexico, Canada and the United States.

Reigning Asian Player of the Year Salem Al-Dawsari scored the only goal as Saudi Arabia won 1-0 against Tajikistan in Riyadh to move on to nine points in Group G, five ahead of the Tajiks and Jordan, who won 3-0 against Pakistan.

Oman ensured that three teams are on six points at the halfway point in Group D by handing Malaysia their first loss of the preliminaries with a 2-0 win over Kim Pan-gon's side in Muscat.

Kyrgyzstan also have six points as a result of their 2-0 victory over Taiwan.

Iran thrashed Turkmenistan 5-0, with defender Hossain Kanaani scoring twice, to take Amir Ghalenoi's team on to seven points and up to the Group E summit, where they are level with Uzbekistan, who defeated Hong Kong 2-0.

Sultan Adil scored 18 minutes from time to maintain the United Arab Emirates' winning start with a 2-1 victory over Yemen in Abu Dhabi and they now lead Group H by three points from Bahrain, who had a 5-0 win against Nepal.

Australia defeated Lebanon 2-0 in Sydney to open up a five-point gap at the top of Group I, with Palestine cruising to a 5-0 win over Bangladesh in Kuwait City to move into second.

Iraq picked up a third win in a row in Group F as Mohannad Ali's 84th-minute strike secured a 1-0 victory over the Philippines and the Gulf side lead the standings ahead of Indonesia, who won 1-0 against Vietnam.

Earlier in the day, South Korea were held to a 1-1 draw by Thailand but they still top Group C by three points from the Thais after China drew 2-2 with Singapore.

Japan defeated North Korea 1-0 to give them a five-point lead in Group B over Syria following a 1-1 draw for Hector Cuper's side with Myanmar.

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Clare Fallon)