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Asian heavyweights win big to launch FIFA World Cup qualifying in style

HONG KONG – Asia's footballing heavyweights made fast starts to World Cup qualifying on Thursday with Australia, Japan and South Korea plundering 17 goals between them in big wins on home soil.

The long road to the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico began in earnest in Asia with 36 teams in action Thursday.

Australia, which reached the last 16 at the Qatar 2022 World Cup before bowing out 2-1 to Lionel Messi and eventual champions Argentina, hammered Bangladesh 7-0 in Melbourne.

It was Australia's biggest victory since 2019 and the perfect present for Graham Arnold, who took charge for the 59th time, a record for a Socceroos coach.

Substitute Jamie Maclaren hit a second-half hat-trick in front of nearly 21,000 and it could have been even worse for Bangladesh but Massimo Luongo missed a late penalty.

"Seven goals, but it could have been more, for me too, but three points and we move on," said Melbourne City striker Maclaren.

"I'm not even sure (goalkeeper) Maty (Ryan) had a save to make so proud of the team, but we obviously know the next games are going to be harder."

Australia are in Group I alongside Palestine and Lebanon, who meet in Sharjah.

In Group B, Ayase Ueda also scored a hat-trick as Japan got their bid to reach an eighth straight World Cup off to an emphatic start with a 5-0 win over Myanmar.

The hosts were missing injured Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma but Feyenoord striker Ueda picked up the slack with a ruthless display of finishing in Osaka.

Daichi Kamada and Ritsu Doan also got on the scoresheet as Japan took early control of a qualifying group that also includes North Korea and Syria.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu demanded even more from his side despite their handsome victory.

"We had chances to score more goals," said Moriyasu, who took Japan to the last 16 at the Qatar World Cup following stunning wins over Germany and Spain.

Not to be outdone, Jurgen Klinsmann went a little way toward silencing the doubters in South Korea as his side strolled to a 5-0 thumping of Singapore in Seoul.

Tottenham Hotspur forward Son Heung-min was among the goal-scorers, and it was a cracker, bending the ball left-footed into the top corner from