Samurai Blue through as quintet have to leave it late
Japan confirm Russia 2018 place with Australia victory
Korea Republic held at home against Iran
Two automatic berths, one play-off place up for grabs
Japan became the second Asian team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, joining Iran at the global finals after beating Australia 2-0 at home. The Socceroos are, meanwhile, left to battle for Group B’s second qualifying spot against Saudi Arabia, who lost 2-1 in United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
In Group A, Korea Republic are still fighting for their Russia 2018 place after being held to a goalless draw at home to Iran. Syria, though, stunned Qatar 3-1 to move level on points with Uzbekistan, who lost 1-0 to China PR. It becomes a three-horse race for the section’s remaining automatic ticket, though the Taeguk Warriors are two points clear. Qatar's Russia 2018 dreams are over, while China maintained their hopes of a play-off finish.
Results Group A: China PR 1-0 Uzbekistan, Korea Republic 0-0 Iran, Syria 3-1 Qatar Group B: United Arab Emirates 2-1 Saudi Arabia, Japan 2-0 Australia, Thailand 1-2 Iraq
The match Japan 2-0 Australia Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama Goals: 41 Takuma Asano; 83 Yosuke Ideguchi
Japan completed their mission in style, defeating Australia 2-0 at home to book their place at Russia 2018 with a game to spare. Having never defeated the Socceroos in FIFA World Cup qualifying, Samurai Blue broke the jinx with their first victory. With Japan claiming the top spot of Group B, Australia are left battling for the section's remaining automatic berth with Saudi Arabia, who are leading on goal difference. Ange Postecoglou's side must now beat Thailand on Tuesday and hope the other result goes their way if they are to secure their ticket to the FIFA World Cup.
In what had been anticipated as a decider, Vahid Halilhodzic surprisingly made several changes to the line-up of their last 1-1 draw with Iraq, notably starting dynamic attackers Takashi Inui and Takuma Asano in preference to the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. His tactical changes duly paid off, with the latter breaking the deadlock four minutes from break. The visitors pressed hard after the restart, desperately seeking to equalise. But it was the hosts who doubled the lead, with Yosuke Ideguchi striking late to seal the win and their sixth successive FIFA World Cup qualification.
Elsewhere Saudi Arabia's hopeful campaign was dealt a heavy blow after they threw away a 1-0 lead to lose to hosts United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. Nawaf Al Abed put the visitors ahead with a spot-kick but Ali Mabkhout drew the hosts levelas the two sides finished the first half locked at 1-1. Ahmed Khalil then sealed the victory on the hour-mark with a spectacular long-range strike to keep their slim Russia 2018 hopes alive. The Saudis now face an all-but must-win scenarios when they entertain Japan in the closing game five days later.
In Group A, Korea Republic were held to a goalless draw by Iran in Seoul. Both sides carved out a couple of chances but it was the hosts that looked more likely to break the deadlock with Jang Hyunsoo heading just wide of the post. Now two points clear of Uzbekistan and Syria, the Taeguk Warriors remain in the driving seat in the three-horse race for the remaining qualifying slot, with a victory in Uzbekistan enough to seal their passage through regardless of other results.
Omar Kharbin struck in each half as Syria maintained their hopes of an automatic qualifying place to the next FIFA World Cup with a 3-1 defeat of Qatar. The 23-year-old striker opened the scoring on seven minutes after getting onto the end of Feras Al Khatib's smart through-ball and despite seeing his opener cancelled out by Ali Assadalia, the Al Hilal frontman restored their lead with a second-half strike, before Mahmoud Al Mawas sealed the deal with a stoppage-time effort.
Gao Lin scored the only goal as China PR defeated Uzbekistan at home to keep their slim World Cup hopes alive. Marcello Lippi's side dominated the first half with 12 shots to one, only to fail to break the deadlock. Having weathered the hosts' storm, though, the visitors hit back hard after the restart and looked the more dangerous side going forward. China PR were awarded a penalty when Feng Xiaoting was tripped in the area and from the consequent spot-kick, Gao Lin kept his cool to seal his side's second victory under the Italian coach.
Player of the day The surprise package in Asian qualifying, Syria have defied all odds to maintain their hopes of qualifying for a maiden World Cup. But Syrian fans are aware that their team would hardly have made it this far had it not been for their striking prodigy Omar Kharbin. In a sense, the emerging star has established his talismanic place, having scored ten times as his side continued their amazing run.
Did you know? Japan are among Asia's most successful team in FIFA World Cup qualifying and Russia 2018 marks their sixth appearance at the global extravaganza. The Samurai Blue are second only to Korea Republic, who have represented Asia for a record nine times at the FIFA World Cup.
What they said "I know that losing is a part of sport, but for me this is the most disappointing moment of the past two years, from the beginning until now. In one game, we threw almost everything away with an unnecessary loss in Australia, and now we have another unnecessary loss," Saudi Arabia head coach Bert van Marwijk.
Up next (Round Three, Matchday 10) Group A - **5 September Iran-Syria Qatar-China PR Uzbekistan-Korea Republic
Group B - 5 September Australia-Thailand Iraq-United Arab Emirates Saudi Arabia-Japan