Saitama (Japan) (AFP) – Japan beat Australia Thursday to qualify for their sixth successive World Cup but South Korea missed a golden opportunity to join them in Russia when they could only draw against 10-man Iran.
The goalless draw in Seoul means South Korea’s hopes of qualifying from Group A for their ninth successive finals were left hanging in the balance when a win would have booked their ticket to Russia.
Meanwhile, Syria’s 3-1 victory over Qatar in Malaysia gave a massive boost to the war-torn nation’s dreams of qualifying from Group A as they moved into third place on goal difference.
And China’s shock 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Thursday’s other Group A match kept their own slim hopes alive.
Now a defeat for the Koreans in their final match in Tashkent on Tuesday could see them fail to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1982 should Syria beat Iran in Tehran on the same night.
And in a wide-open battle for Asian qualification, China could still take third place and a playoff spot if they beat Qatar in Doha on Tuesday and other results go their way.
– ‘This is for the fans’-
There were no problems for Japan in Saitama, however, as Takuma Asano, in the first half, and a brilliant Yosuke Ideguchi strike eight minutes from time were enough to see off Australia 2-0.
The result dealt a major blow to Australia’s chances of being one of the two automatic qualifiers from Group B after their first defeat in the final round of Asian qualifiers.
The Socceroos will get a second bite at the cherry at home to Thailand on Tuesday when they will need to better Saudi Arabia’s result against Japan in Jeddah on the same night in order to guarantee second place in the group.
“This is for the wonderful fans and for the people of Japan,” cried Japan’s under-fire coach Vahid Halilhodzic, whose team have an unassailable 20 points from nine games in Group B.
Ideguchi, meanwhile, appeared lost for words after a wonder strike that looks like sparing Halilhodzic the sack — at least for now.
“Luckily it hit the target,” he said. “I’m just glad it helped us get the win.”
– Reckless red card –
In Seoul, South Korea could not breach Iran’s defence despite being urged on by more than 63,000 screaming fans and the visitors being reduced to 10 men seven minutes into the second half.