• Saudi Arabia booked World Cup return
  • Korea Republic also claim automatic spot
  • Australia, Syria are pitted together in next stage

Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia claimed the remaining two slots to join Iran and Japan and wrap up Asia’s four guaranteed tickets to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

In Group A, the Taeguk Warriors were held to a goalless draw by Uzbekistan. The result, coupled with Syria’s 2-2 draw in Iran, saw Shin Taeyong’s side reach their tenth FIFA World Cup finals. The West Asians, meanwhile, made history by reaching Round Four.

Both Saudi Arabia and Australia won at home against Japan and Thailand respectively in Group B, although it was the former that sealed the section’s second spot, booking their World Cup return after an eleven-year hiatus.

Australia and Syria will battle over two legs in October to reach the CONCACAF-Asian Zone play-off.

Results
Group A: Uzbekistan 0-0 Korea Republic, Iran 2-2 Syria, Qatar 1-2 China PR

Group B: Saudi Arabia 1-0 Japan, Australia 2-1 Thailand, Iraq 1-0 United Arab Emirates 

The match
Iran 2-2 Syria Azadi Stadium, Tehran, 19:30 local time
Goals: Sardar Azmoun 45, 64; Tamer Haj Mohamad 13, Omar Al Soma 90+3

Syria carved their names into their nation’s football folklore as they kept their World Cup dreams alive, with a 2-2 draw in Iran seeing them pip Uzbekistan to third place. The Syrians got off to an unexpectedly swift start as Tamer Haj Mohamad put the visitors in front – the first conceded by Iran in the third round. But, just prior to the break, Sardar Azmoun bundled home to send the sides in on terms.

The Rubin Kazan striker doubled his tally just after hour-mark, latching onto Mehid Taremi’s headed pass to send the home crowd into raptures. With their dream beginning to evaporate, Syria demonstrated their trademark resilience in the dying seconds. The impressive Omar Al Soma slotted home to salvage a precious point as Syria kept their hopes still alive.

The other attractions
Also in Group A, Korea Republic book their tenth FIFA World Cup appearance despite being held to a goalless draw in Uzbekistan. In what would prove to be a do or die match, both sides were firing on all cylinders. The woodwork denied either team on numerous occasions, with a hard-fought point seeing Korea Republic progress, while the Uzbeks suffered a familiar sad story with yet another near-miss.

China PR saw their hopes of a play-off place ended in heart-breaking fashion despite winning 2-1 away against Qatar. Akram Afif put the hosts ahead but Xiao Zhi and Wu Lei struck to keep their hopes alive, but China were left ruing the late equaliser they conceded to Syria in June.

Tomi Juric and Mathew Leckie struck in the second half as Australia edged out Thailand 2-1 at home in Group B  as Australia hit 45 shots, including hitting the woodwork three times, in a dominant display. Needing goals, though, the Socceroos paid for their profligacy as Saudi Arabia edged them out of automatic qualification.

Elsewhere, the already-eliminated Iraq left with their heads held high, wrapping up their campaign with a 1-0 victory against United Arab Emirates thanks to Ayman Hussein.

The player
Sardar Azmoun may have scored a brace, but Omar Al Soma shone brightly for Syria as they grabbed an important point against Iran. The Al Ahli forward had a hand in both their goals, flicking on a free-kick which led to their opener before sealing the tie with a spectacular stoppage-time strike. 

Do you know?
Iran keeper Alireza Haghighi entered the closing game of round three with 12 successive qualifying clean sheets. The last time they conceded was in November 2015 during a 3-1 victory against Turkmenistan. Syria’s Tamer Mohamd brought that impressive record to an end today.

What they said
“I can’t fault the players. We hit the post three times, we had a couple cleared off the line, it’s a game of inches. It’s been a hard campaign for the boys but we’ve lost one game. They’ve stuck to the task and the challenges I’ve thrown at them. I think they deserve to go through,” Australia head coach Ange Postecoglou


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