BRISBANE, Australia (AP) – Australia and Japan needed late winners at home on Friday's opening day of third-round World Cup qualifying in Asia, while Park Chu-young hit a hat trick as South Korea won comfortably.
There were also wins for China and Uzbekistan as the group-stage third round began, involving the region's major teams for the first time.
Australia fell behind to Thailand and the Socceroos required an 86th-minute goal by substitute Alex Brosque to secure a 2-1 win.
Japan left it even later, with defender Maya Yoshida heading in the winner in the fourth minute of stoppage time to secure a 1-0 win over North Korea.
China found itself trailing late at home against Singapore but second-half goals by Zheng Zhi and Yu Hai delivered a 2-1 win.
Park gave his new Arsenal club cause for optimism with his sparkling performance in South Korea's 6-0 hammering of Lebanon, while veteran forward Maksim Shatskikh scored the sole goal in the 72nd minute as Uzbekistan won 1-0 away at Tajikistan.
Striker Teerasil Dangda gave visiting Thailand a shock 1-0 lead in the 15th minute against Australia, neatly finishing a perfectly executed 70-meter counterattack.
Australia dominated possession and created a series of chances before Josh Kennedy finally equalized in the 58th.
Brosque, who was a late call-up to the squad to replace the injured Scott McDonald, proved to be a super-sub, tapping in the winner to the relief of coach Holger Osieck and the Brisbane crowd.
The Socceroos' manner of victory was relatively comfortable compared to that of Japan, which labored in the absence of injured forward Keisuke Honda and looked like being held to a stalemate by the trademark resolute North Korea defense.
However, Yoshida headed home a cross just as the referee was preparing to blow the final whistle, and Japan was able to extend its unbeaten run under coach Alberto Zaccheroni to 15 games.
''The North Koreans gave everything they had and we were forced to play patiently,'' Zaccheroni said. ''But at the end of the day, it was rewarding that we made it in the end.''
South Korea had a relative stroll against Lebanon, winning 6-0 in an authoritative performance.
The three points were never in doubt after Park put the hosts ahead with a volley in the eighth minute and he doubled the advantage when he headed in a Ki Sung-yeung corner seconds before half time.
Sunderland forward Ji Dong-won made it 3-0 in the 66th; heading a cross into Park's path, then shooting the rebound into an empty net after the keeper blocked the initial shot.
Seconds later, Park completed his hat trick with a low shot from the right side of the area.
Kim Jung-woo got on the scoresheet in the 82nd and Ji made it half a dozen in the 85th.
''We won because all the players created space and showed great movement,'' Park said. ''We all did what we were supposed to and in the end, it was a straightforward win.''
China looked in danger of a stunning defeat when 41-year-old striker Aleksandar Duric put Singapore ahead in the 33rd, and the visitors took that advantage to the break.
China had to wait until the 69th to equalize, when Zheng Zhi scored from the penalty spot, and winger Yu Hai scored what proved the winner in the 73rd.
The second-half comeback would have come as a relief for former Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho, who took charge of his first competitive game and has the onerous task of leading the long-underachieving Chinese to Brazil in 2014.
Shatskikh netted for Uzbekistan in the 72nd to give the visitors a share of top spot in Group C with Japan.
Despite the home defeat, the narrow margin was a creditable performance by the Tajiks, who only found themselves in the third round after Syria was disqualified for fielding an ineligible player in the previous round.
Ten qualifiers were being played across Asia in the first match day of the penultimate group stage.