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(Reuters) - Syria moved closer to securing their place in the third round of Asia's preliminary competition for the 2022 World Cup after a hat-trick from Mahmoud Al Mawas secured a 4-0 win over the Maldives in Sharjah.
Al Mawas scored twice in the first half either side of a strike from Aias Aosman, and the Syrian playmaker completed his hat-trick with a 72nd minute penalty.
The victory was the Syrians sixth in a row in Group A, maintaining their perfect record and opening up an eight point gap over second-placed China.
Syria have played one game more than Li Tie's team, and victory for Nabil Maaloul's side over already-eliminated Guam on Monday will secure their spot in the next round.
The Syrians made light work of Martin Koopman's side, with Al Mawas opening the scoring in the 29th minute before penalties from Aosman and Al Mawas put the result beyond doubt by the end of the first half.
Al Mawas completed his hat-trick with another penalty 18 minutes from time, with Mouaiad Al Ajaan's late red card taking some of the shine off the win for Syria.
Winners of each of the eight groups in Asia's preliminary competition qualify automatically for the next round with the four best runners-up also advancing.
Asia will have four guaranteed berths at the finals plus a fifth available via an intercontinental playoff while Qatar will also play at the tournament due to their status as hosts.
(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Pritha Sarkar)