Abu Dhabi (AFP) – Tim Cahill came off the bench to score with only his second touch as Australia edged the United Arab Emirates 1-0 in 2018 World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

The 36-year-old, who replaced Tomi Juric in the 71st minute at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, took only four minutes to ensure Australia’s second win in five days in Group B of Asian qualifying.

The goal came when a fine build-up saw Brad Smith freed on the left flank and the Bournemouth winger whipped an excellent ball into the area for Cahill to convert. 

The result followed a 2-0 home triumph over Iraq last Thursday and gives Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos a solid foundation to stay on course for yet another appearance in the World Cup.

They are level with Saudi Arabia at the top of the group with a maximum six points.

“It was my second touch! First one was off my chest. I want teams to be fearful of me when I come on. I’ve earned that respect over the last 10 years and I’m going to really push as hard as I can,” he said.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia won 2-1 against Iraq with two late penalties from Nawaf Al Abed giving them the points.

Iraq, playing in Malaysia because of conflict at home, were 1-0 up with nine minutes to play before Abed buried spot-kicks in the 81st and 87th minutes.

Abed struck in similar fashion last week when his 84th-minute penalty consigned Thailand to a 1-0 defeat in the opening round of games.

Japan bounced back from an opening home defeat to the United Arab Emirates with a 2-0 defeat of Thailand in Bangkok, as Genki Haraguchi’s first-half opener was followed by a Takuma Asano effort.

Asano, who was denied a clear goal in last Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to the UAE when officials failed to see his attempt had crossed the line, squeezed his shot under goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan on 75 minutes.

– South Korea slip up –

In Group A, China’s World Cup hopes brightened when they held heavyweights Iran to a 0-0 draw as group rivals South Korea slipped up in an embarrassing stalemate against war-ravaged Syria.

Defeat to Asia’s top-ranked side would have dented China’s hopes of reaching only their second World Cup but in the end it was a close game in Shenyang.

China’s point, their first in Asia’s final qualifying round, keeps them in touch with the leaders in six-team Group A, where the top two will win an automatic spot at Russia 2018.

China have only ever reached one World Cup, in 2002, but qualifying for Russia would be a significant statement for a country which aims to become a global football power.

Their cause was also helped by South Korea’s travails in Malaysia, Syria’s temporary ‘home’ base, as they missed out on what had seemed like a certain three points.

South Korea will be kicking themselves after their goalless draw in Seremban denied them the chance to seize control of the group.

Son Heung-Min missed the game to return to his club, Tottenham Hotspur, and coach Uli Stielike may regret letting him go after a toothless performance with just two shots on target.

Uzbekistan are top with six points after a 1-0 win in Qatar as Egor Krimets netted the only goal of the game.