World Cup Soccer qualifiers: Thailand joy at last, South Korea and Japan win

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 00:36 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Reuters: Thailand’s national soccer team gave the country a lift by holding Asian champions Australia to a shock 2-2 draw in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday while South Korea and Japan took the heat off their under-fire coaches with matching 2-1 wins.

The Koreans gave coach Uli Stielike the perfect 62nd birthday gift with a come-from-behind victory over Uzbekistan in Seoul that lifted them into second spot in Group A behind Iran, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Syria.

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic took the bold step of dropping Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa to the bench against Group B leaders Saudi Arabia in Saitama and the gamble paid off big time as the ‘Blue Samurai’ picked up three crucial points.

That lifted the Japanese into second place, level on 10 points with the Saudis, while Australia slipped to third, a point behind with five games left to play. 

United Arab Emirates beat Iraq 2-0 in Abu Dhabi after Ahmed Khalil gave them the lead with a volley that went in off the underside of the crossbar in the 26th minute. 

Ismaeil Matar wrapped up the win when he slotted home deep into added time to leave the UAE in fourth place, level on nine points with Australia, who have a superior goal difference. 

The top two in Group A and B qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia while the third-placed teams will meet to decide who goes into a CONCACAF-Asian Zone playoff for a place at the finals. 

Korea are now on 10 points from five games, one behind Iran and one ahead of Uzbekistan. 

Italian Marcello Lippi’s first game as China coach ended in a 0-0 draw with Qatar in Kunming, seriously damaging both teams’ hopes of reaching the finals.