Japan became the second Asian team to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia, joining Iran at the global finals after beating Australia 2-0 at home.
The Socceroos are, meanwhile, left to battle for Group B’s second qualifying spot against Saudi Arabia, who lost 2-1 in United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
In Group A, Korea Republic are still fighting for their Russia 2018 place after being held to a goalless draw at home to Iran. Syria, though, stunned Qatar 3-1 to move level on points with Uzbekistan, who lost 1-0 to China PR. It becomes a three-horse race for the section’s remaining automatic ticket, though the Taeguk Warriors are two points clear. Qatar’s Russia 2018 dreams are over, while China maintained their hopes of a play-off finish.
Japan completed their mission in style, defeating Australia 2-0 at home to book their place at Russia 2018 with a game to spare. Having never defeated the Socceroos in Fifa World Cup qualifying, Samurai Blue broke the jinx with their first victory. With Japan claiming the top spot of Group B, Australia are left battling for the section’s remaining automatic berth with Saudi Arabia, who are leading on goal difference. Ange Postecoglou’s side must now beat Thailand on Tuesday and hope the other result goes their way if they are to secure their ticket to the Fifa World Cup.
In what had been anticipated as a decider, Vahid Halilhodzic surprisingly made several changes to the line-up of their last 1-1 draw with Iraq, notably starting dynamic attackers Takashi Inui and Takuma Asano in preference to the likes of Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. His tactical changes duly paid off, with the latter breaking the deadlock four minutes from break. The visitors pressed hard after the restart, desperately seeking to equalise. But it was the hosts who doubled the lead, with Yosuke Ideguchi striking late to seal the win and their sixth successive Fifa World Cup qualification.
Saudi Arabia’s hopeful campaign was dealt a heavy blow after they threw away a 1-0 lead to lose to hosts United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. Nawaf Al Abed put the visitors ahead with a spot-kick but Ali Mabkhout drew the hosts levelas the two sides finished the first half locked at 1-1. Captain Ahmed Khalil then sealed the victory on the hour-mark with a spectacular long-range strike to keep their slim Russia 2018 hopes alive. The Saudis now face an all-but must-win scenarios when they entertain Japan in the closing game five days later.