Australia, South Korea keep World Cup hopes alive
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — South Korea moved within a point of reaching the World Cup finals after edging Uzbekistan 1-0 in Asian qualifiers on Tuesday, while Australia improved its chances of qualifying with a 4-0 win over Jordan.
In Group A, South Korea is on the verge of its eighth consecutive appearance at the World Cup final; and Iran kept its hopes alive with a 4-0 win over Lebanon. However, Iran’s victory put an end to the hopes of 2022 World Cup host Qatar, which cannot now advance.
In Group B, Australia improved its chances of qualifying for a third consecutive World Cup with a 4-0 win over Jordan, and already-qualified Japan moved to 17 points by beating Iraq 1-0.
South Korea leads Group A with 14 points, while Iran has 13 and Uzbekistan 11. Fourth-place Qatar has seven and Lebanon is last in the group with five points.
A draw in its final game on June 18 at home to Iran will be enough to secure South Korea’s place in Brazil next year. Uzbekistan must beat Qatar in Tashkent to stand a chance of qualifying on the same day. The top two from each group qualify automatically for Brazil, with the third-place teams go into a playoff for an intercontinental qualifying series.
In Seoul, South Korea broke the deadlock just before halftime when defender Akmal Shorakhmedov headed a Kim Younggwon cross firmly into his own net.
“It was a big match for us and it makes us feel better for the match against Iran. This was an important match and the concentration of the players was important and winning will give the players a lot more confidence,” coach Choi Kang-hee said.
In Tehran, Iran claimed an important 4-0 victory over Lebanon. Iran took the lead on 39 minutes when Mohammed-Reza Kalatbari scored with a low shot.
A Javad Nekounam header straight after the break doubled its lead, while Reza Ghoochannejhad made it 3-0. Nekounam scored Iran’s fourth and his second on 87 minutes.
Midfielder Robbie Kruse scored a goal and set up two others as Australia earned a vital win and moved into second spot in Group B with 10 points, one ahead of Oman.
Jordan has seven points, while Iraq has five.
Australia needed to beat Jordan and win again next week in Sydney against Iraq to guarantee second spot in Group B.
Midfielder Mark Bresciano scored in the 15th minute in Melbourne and Tim Cahill found the net in the 61st.
“This is the time when it needs to click,” Bresciano said. “We know exactly what we’re playing for. We’ve got a must-win game next week in Sydney.”
Kruse drove in a shot from close range in the 77th minute and captain Lucas Neill claimed his first-ever international goal shortly before the end.
“It was a wonderful performance, but it means nothing if we don’t get the goal next week,” Kruse said.
Jordan is at home to Oman next week.
Japan ended Iraq’s chances thanks to a 1-0 win in Doha, courtesy of a goal in the 89th minute by Shinji Okazaki.
“The heat and wind made things difficult but we did well enough tonight. I think we showed we have been a force to be reckoned with in this group,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said.