Japan closes in on qualifying group leaders in Asia
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Japan closed in on both Saudi Arabia and Australia in Asian World Cup qualifying, beating Vietnam 1-0 Thursday while the two leading teams in Group B played out a 0-0 draw.
The Saudis lead the group with 13 points, followed by Australia with 10 and Japan with nine.
Only the top two finishers in each of the two six-team groups will automatically qualify for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Junya Ito scored an early goal from close range for Japan, a team that has appeared at every World Cup since 1998 but is in real danger of missing out this time.
Australia, which was playing at home for the first time in more than two years, had won 11 straight qualifying matches but now has only one point from its last two matches.
“Overall we played well, we created chances but they didn’t go in,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said. “Then a little bit of frustration set in with the time wasting and tactics from the Saudis. We have to learn to be better with that because that’s when they came up with their chances.”
The result was better for Saudi Arabia, which earned its first point on Australian soil.
The Saudis will travel to play Vietnam on Tuesday, while Australia will face China in the United Arab Emirates and Japan visits Oman.
Oman is fourth with seven points after a 1-1 draw with China. Wu Lei put China ahead after 21 minutes but Amjad Al-Harthi headed in the equalizer with 15 minutes remaining to keep China in fifth place with four points.
In Group A, South Korea stayed on course for a 10th straight World Cup appearance by beating the UAE 1-0.
Hwang Hee-chan, who plays in England for Wolverhampton Wanderers, converted from the penalty spot late in the first half.
“It was a very good all-round performance,” South Korea coach Paulo Bento said. “We should have taken more of our chances but we fully deserved the three points and we can now look forward to the next game.”
South Korea stayed in second place in the group behind Iran, which scored twice in injury time to beat Lebanon 2-1.
Sardar Azmoun equalized for Iran in injury time and Ahmad Nourollahi scored another with the last kick of the match.
In the group’s remaining fixture, Iraq and Syria drew 1-1 to stay fourth and sixth, respectively.
Iran has 13 points in Group A and South Korea has 11.
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