Saudis, Iran go top as China lose again

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Saudi Ara­bia took full ad­van­tage of an ear­lier draw be­tween Aus­tralia and Ja­pan by beat­ing neigh­bours United Arab Emi­rates 3-0 to storm to the top of Group B in Asian World Cup qual­i­fy­ing on Tues­day.

Iran ear­lier de­lighted 75,000 fans at a jam­packed Azadi sta­dium in Tehran when Sar­dar Az­moun’s goal earned a 1-0 win over South Korea that sent Team Melli clear in Group A af­ter four of 10 matches.

The top two in each group reach the 2018 fi­nals with the two third-placed sides meet­ing over two legs for the chance to face a CONCACAF team in a fi­nal play­off for a ticket to Rus­sia.

Saudi Ara­bia had been ex­pected to be bat­tling it out for third when they were drawn with Aus­tralia and Ja­pan but late goals from Fa­had Al Muwal­lad, Nawaf Al Abed and Yahya Al Shehri in Riyadh on Tues­day gave them three wins from four matches. Bert van Mar­wijk’s side now stand two points clear of Asian cham­pi­ons Aus­tralia, who re­mained un­de­feated only af­ter res­cu­ing a point from their heavy­weight clash with the Blue Sa­mu­rai in Mel­bourne cour­tesy of Mile Je­d­i­nak’s sec­ond half penalty.

Genki Haraguchi put Ja­pan ahead in the fifth minute on the counter-at­tack but was also re­spon­si­ble for the clumsy chal­lenge on Tomi Juric that al­lowed the Aus­tralia cap­tain to make it 1-1 from the spot in the 52nd minute.

The Saudis top the group with 10 points ahead of the Soc­ceroos (8) and Ja­pan (7) with the United Arab Emi­rates also still very much in con­tention on six points.

Mo­hanad Ad­bul­ra­heem scored all four goals in Tehran as Iraq se­cured the first points of their cam­paign with a 4-0 win over win­less Thai­land, who were re­duced to 10 men af­ter Ko­ravit Nam­wiset was sent off.

In Tues­day’s other qual­i­fier in the Ira­nian cap­i­tal, the home side dom­i­nated the first half and took a de­served 25th-minute lead through Az­moun, who capped a flow­ing move when he met a low cross from the right and side-footed it into the net.

The Kore­ans, bid­ding for a spot at a ninth straight World Cup, pressed for­ward af­ter the break but failed to cre­ate a clear-cut chance against a packed Ira­nian de­fence.

China’s fad­ing hopes of qual­i­fy­ing for the fi­nals for a sec­ond time re­ceived another blow when they were beaten 2-0 by Uzbek­istan, who moved up to sec­ond in Group A a point be­hind Iran. Sec­ond half goals from Marat Bik­maev and sub­sti­tute Shukurov Otabek in Tashkent left the Chi­nese bot­tom of the six-team group with a soli­tary point. — Reuters

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