South Korea, Saudi Arabia qualify for World Cup 2018

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  • Syria earn Australia playoff

South Korea booked their place at a ninth straight World Cup finals on Tuesday evening as a 0-0 draw with Uzbekistan was enough for Shin Tae-yong and his team to book their ticket for Russia.

But after the final whistle, there was heartbreak for the Uzbeks as a late goal from Omar Al Soma in Tehran saw Syria move into third place in the group as Aymen Hakeem’s side sealed a 2-2 draw with already-qualified Iran on a dramatic final night of Asia’s qualifying campaign.

Saudi Arabia later beat Japan 1-0 to secure their place in Russia as well, pushing Australia to the playoff against Syria in the process.

South Korea ensured they would finish in second place in Group A behind the Iranians and two points clear of Syria as the nation continued their remarkable run of consecutive appearances at the World Cup.

Lee Keun-ho, Son Heung-min and Lee Dong-gook all hit the woodwork for the Koreans at Pakhtakor Stadium, with the home side not doing enough to keep their hopes of a first-ever World Cup appearance alive.

Those dreams were dashed in Tehran when Al Soma struck deep into injury time to slot the ball between the legs of Alireza Beiranvand and give the Syrians a point that took them into third place on goal difference.

Syria and Australia, the teams in third place in each group, will face off against each other in October, with the winners entering into an intercontinental playoff against the fourth-placed team in CONCACAF in November.

Syria booked their place in the elimination phase after an impressive fight back late in the game.

Tamer Haj Mohamed scored for the Syrians — the first goal Iran have conceded in more than 12 qualifying matches — from close range after 13 minutes before a double from Sardar Azmoun looked set to give the Iranians all three points.

But Al Soma, who only returned to the team last month after a lengthy self-imposed exile, slipped the ball home to send the Syrians into raptures.

Because of the ongoing civil war in Syria, the national team has not played any qualifiers in their home country. For the final round, they played in Malaysia, while in the previous round they played in Oman.

Syria was ranked 151st in the world by FIFA in January 2015, the rankings used to seed the first AFC qualifying draw. For the final round’s seedings in April 2016, they were ranked 110th, the second-lowest of the 12 teams in contention. Syria are up to 80th in the latest rankings released Aug. 10.

In the late game, Fahad Al Muwallad blasted the only goal into the roof of the net to help Saudi Arabia qualify for their fifth World Cup, but first since 2006. Japan had already won Group B.

That victory put the Saudis into second place on goal difference above Australia, who will be forced to face the Syrians despite Ange Postecoglou’s side notching up a 2-1 win over Thailand in Melbourne.

Tomi Juric gave the Australians the lead in the 69th minute only for Pokklaw Anan to level with eight minutes go. But Mathew Leckie claimed the goal four minutes from time that kept Australia’s hopes of an automatic berth alive for a few more hours.

The United Arab Emirates’ slim hopes were extinguished when Iraq’s Aymen Hussein scored the only goal of their meeting in Amman in Jordan while China finished with a flourish as Marcello Lippi’s side defeated Qatar 2-1.

Xiao and Wu Lei scored after Akram Afiff had given the 2022 World Cup hosts the lead, as the Chinese narrowly missed out on keeping their chances of a second World Cup appearance alive.