China brought back down to earth

New Straits Times - - Sport -

TEHRAN: Iran’s Me­hdi Taremi dealt China’s World Cup hopes a ma­jor blow on Tues­day, as Aus­tralia grabbed a cru­cial win over UAE to stay in the hunt for an au­to­matic spot at Rus­sia 2018.

Aus­tralia, how­ever, can take noth­ing for granted as they lie in third spot with 13 points af­ter Ja­pan and Saudi Ara­bia also won to jointly go three points clear in Group B with 16.

Ja­pan ended Thai­land’s cam­paign with a 4-0 vic­tory in Saitama, and South Korea squeezed past Syria 1-0 to get back on track af­ter last week’s up­set to China.

Saudi Ara­bia grabbed three points in Jed­dah with Yahya alShehri scor­ing the win­ner in the 53rd minute for a 1-0 vic­tory over Iraq.

Mar­cello Lippi’s team had raised Chi­nese hopes with their 10 win over the Kore­ans, but Taremi’s goal straight af­ter half-time con­signed them to de­feat by the same score­line.

While Iran, Asia’s top-ranked team, main­tain their four-point cush­ion from South Korea at the top of Group A, China are sec­ond from bot­tom with only three games to go.

China are pump­ing huge re­sources into foot­ball in an ef­fort to lift them­selves among the sport’s elite, start­ing with qual­i­fy­ing for only the sec­ond World Cup in their his­tory.

But they may now have to win all of their re­main­ing games against Syria, Uzbek­istan and Qatar to reach next year’s tour­na­ment in Rus­sia.

In Syd­ney, Aus­tralia badly needed a win against UAE and af­ter a game fea­tur­ing 42 fouls they ran out 2-0 vic­tors thanks to goals from Jack­son Irvine and Mathew Leckie.

It al­lowed Aus­tralia to keep pace with Ja­pan and Saudi Ara­bia in Group B as they hunt for the top-two fin­ish which will give them an au­to­matic berth in Rus­sia.

Ja­pan had lit­tle trou­ble in their four-goal stroll in Saitama, which fea­tured a 50th in­ter­na­tional strike for Le­ices­ter City for­ward Shinji Okazaki.

Shinji Ka­gawa gave the hosts the lead in their Asian Group B qual­i­fier with a sharp fin­ish af­ter eight min­utes, be­fore Okazaki thun­dered home a div­ing header to bring up his half-cen­tury in swash­buck­ling style.

Yuya Kubo and Maya Yoshida added fur­ther goals for the Blue Sa­mu­rai af­ter the break and Eiji Kawashima saved a late penalty from Adisak Kraisorn to deny Thai­land a con­so­la­tion.

“I’m in­cred­i­bly happy to get that goal,” Okazaki told re­porters. “I hadn’t scored for a while so it was a re­lief. Hope­fully I can keep on scor­ing goals for Ja­pan.”

“We’re not at the World Cup yet,” he added. “We have to make sure we keep tak­ing our chances and win our re­main­ing games.”

Else­where, China-based Hong Jeong-Ho struck in the fourth minute as Uli Stielike’s South Korea beat Syria 1-0 to re­main sec­ond in Group A.

Qatar’s al­ready slim hopes of qual­i­fy­ing for the tour­na­ment also van­ished as they went down to Uzbek­istan 1-0 in Tashkent.

The Uzbeks, who also have never qual­i­fied for the World Cup fi­nals be­fore, are in third spot with 12 points, just one point be­hind South Korea with three games left. AFP

AFP PIC

China’s Mei Fang (left) tries to block an at­tempt from Iran’s Me­hdi Taremi in their World Cup qual­i­fier at the Azadi Sta­dium in Tehran on Tues­day.

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