Ja­pan, Saudi Ara­bia cruise, Aus­tralia held by Iraq

New Straits Times - - Sport -

AL AIN: Ja­pan stayed on course to book their spot at next year’s World Cup fi­nals as Vahid Halil­hodzic’s side handed the United Arab Emi­rates a 2-0 de­feat on Thurs­day, while Iran recorded a 1-0 win over Qatar.

Yuya Kubo and Ya­suyuki Konno scored a goal in each half for the Ja­panese as the four-time Asian cham­pi­ons re­mained locked on 13 points with Saudi Ara­bia in Group B of Asia’s qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment af­ter Bert van Mar­wijk’s team recorded a 3-0 win over Thai­land in Bangkok.

The two coun­tries moved three points clear at the top of the stand­ings, with Aus­tralia drop­ping into third as a re­sult of their 1-1 draw with Iraq in Tehran.

The third placed team in each of Asia’s two qual­i­fy­ing groups go into a play­off.

Mathew Leckie gave the Soc­ceroos the lead af­ter 39 min­utes only for Ahmed Yasin to score from close range with 14 min­utes re­main­ing to pick up a point for the strug­gling Iraqis.

“It was a tough game,” Aus­tralia coach Ange Postecoglou told Fox Sports.

“We just weren’t strong enough in the de­fen­sive ar­eas and we were con­tin­u­ally scram­bling for things and never re­ally got hold of the game. Our per­for­mance prob­a­bly didn’t war­rant three points and fair credit to them they worked hard.”

Saudi Ara­bia se­cured a com­fort­able win in Bangkok as the Gulf na­tion con­tin­ued their march towards their first ap­pear­ance at the World Cup since 2006, with striker Mo­ham­mad Al Sahlawi on tar­get to reg­is­ter his 15th goal in all phases of qual­i­fy­ing so far.

Iran, mean­while, strength­ened their grip on top spot in Group A with a 1-0 win over Qatar that moves Car­los Queiroz’s team four points clear of sec­ond placed South Korea and a fur­ther point ahead of Uzbek­istan in third.

Me­hdi Taremi scored the only goal of the game for the Ira­ni­ans as Qatar’s chances of qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup be­fore host­ing of 2022 tour­na­ment ap­pears to be fad­ing fast as they dropped to the bot­tom of the stand­ings.

Syria had an in­jury time penalty from Omar Khrbin to thank for keep­ing their hopes of a first-ever World Cup fi­nals ap­pear­ance alive as they se­cured a sur­prise 10 win over Uzbek­istan.

De­spite be­ing forced to play their home games in neu­tral Malaysia due to se­cu­rity is­sues in Syria, the coun­try’s na­tional team are just two points be­hind South Korea, who sit in the sec­ond of Group A’s two au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing spots for Rus­sia 2018.

The Kore­ans slipped up against China when Mar­cello Lippi’s team scored their first win of the cur­rent phase of the cam­paign by virtue of Yu Dabao’s goal, with the vic­tory tak­ing the Chi­nese onto five points to main­tain their slim chances of qual­i­fy­ing for next year’s fi­nals.

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