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Lippi’s China keep World Cup dream alive

Changsha (China) (AFP) – Marcello Lippi’s China stunned South Korea 1-0 in a politically charged World Cup qualifier on Thursday to give themselves a glimmer of hope of reaching next year’s tournament in Russia.

Yu Dabao stooped unmarked to head in the game’s only goal on 34 minutes, prompting rapturous celebrations as China registered their first win in the final group qualifying stage.

Yu’s goal was China’s first in qualifying since September — spanning some 407 minutes of football — and handed them only their second win over the Koreans in 32 attempts.

Australia had less to celebrate as they were pegged back 1-1 by Iraq in Tehran, while Syria beat Uzbekistan 1-0 to stay in contention for a play-off spot.

China had been bottom of Group A and winless after five games, but they will allow themselves to dream of a miraculous revival after beating Uli Stielike’s Koreans.

Only the top two teams in Group A and B gain automatic entry to Russia 2018, but the two sides that finish third will go into a play-off series.

Lippi, who masterminded Italy’s victory at the 2006 World Cup, was hired at great cost in October and China were noticeably more solid as they kept South Korea at bay while creating a series of chances of their own.

Following Chinese anger over South Korea’s deployment of a controversial missile defence system, the game was played in front of a heavy security presence.

But Yu raised the roof at Changsha’s Helong Stadium when he stole past South Korea’s static defence to flick home a corner at the near post.

The game opened up engrossingly in the second half but South Korea were unable to convert any of their chances, including Ji Dong-Won’s header which was brilliantly kept out by goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

Meanwhile Australia have much to ponder after their 1-1 draw against Iraq left them with work ahead to secure their spot in Russia.

Matthew Leckie scored five minutes before half-time but Ahmad Yaseen’s finish on 76 minutes condemned Australia to a fourth draw in six games in the final group stage of qualifying.

The Socceroos, now with 10 points, began the day third in Group B behind Saudi Arabia and Japan, and level on points with United Arab Emirates — who visit Sydney on Tuesday.

In Bangkok, Mohammed Al Sahlawi and Salman Almuwashar scored either side of Tanaboon Kesarat’s own goal as Saudi Arabia beat Thailand 3-0 to stay top of Group B.

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