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By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) -India's Sunil Chhetri scored twice to take his international tally to 82 goals in a 2-0 win over Cambodia on Wednesday in Kolkata as Igor Stimac's side made a winning start to the third round of qualifying for next year's Asian Cup.
The 37-year-old India captain struck from the penalty spot in the 13th minute before powering a header past Cambodian goalkeeper Hul Kimhuy 14 minutes after the restart to give his team a winning start in Group D.
The group hosts sit level on three points with Hong Kong following the first round of matches as Jorn Andersen's team held on to win 2-1 against Afghanistan.
Only the winners of each of the six groups in the third round are guaranteed to advance to the finals next year, where they will be joined by the five runners-up with the best records.
In Group B, Oday Dabbagh's penalty five minutes from time earned Palestine a 1-0 win over Mongolia to put them on top of the early standings after the Philippines and Yemen shared a 0-0 draw.
Uzbekistan, Asian Cup semi-finalists in 2011, cruised to a 3-0 victory over Sri Lanka in their opening game in Group C to join Thailand, who defeated the Maldives 3-0, on three points at the top of the table.
Malaysia picked up a surprise 3-1 win over 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers Turkmenistan in Kuala Lumpur to sit on top of Group E on goal difference from Bahrain, who earned a 2-0 victory against Bangladesh.
Shervoni Mabatshoyev scored twice as Tajikistan secured a comfortable 4-0 win against Myanmar in Group F while Singapore slipped to a 2-1 loss against Kyrgyzstan despite taking the lead through Song Ui-young.
Valeri Kichin levelled for Aleksandr Krestinin's side from the penalty spot with 13 minutes remaining and, five minutes later, Viktor Maier earned the points for the central Asian nation.
Indonesia came back from a goal down to defeat Kuwait 2-1 in Group A with Rachmat Irianto's strike two minutes into the second half earning victory for Shin Tae-yong's team.
They are joined on three points by Jordan, who won 2-0 against Nepal.
Twenty-four teams will play in next year's tournament, with the 12 nations that qualified for the final round of Asia's preliminaries for the World Cup already securing their places at the finals.
A new venue for the competition has yet to be determined after China withdrew from hosting the event due to the country's ongoing pursuit of a zero-COVID strategy.
(Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford)