Socceroos soar in Sydney
Australia back to winning ways after four draws; China's mini revival halted by Iran
(Jackson Irvine 6, Mathew Leckie 78)
|UNITED ARAB EMIRA|
Australia boosted their World Cup qualifying hopes yesterday with a tense 2-0 win over the United Arab Emirates, whose under-pressure coach Mahdi Ali announced his resignation after the match.
Goals from Jackson Irvine and Mathew Leckie handed the Socceroos a crucial win which kept them in touch with the top two spots in Group B and an automatic berth at Russia 2018.
It was a tense, niggling encounter in Sydney with a total of 42 fouls, 26 committed by the home side, but the first of five yellow cards was not shown until the 80th minute.
The Asian champions now have 13 points, after starting the day three adrift of group leaders Japan and Saudi Arabia.
"Everyone stressed the importance to us before the game and it was just about keeping calm and composed and taking our opportunities when they came," Australia skipper Mile Jedinak said.
"We squandered a few chances and might have got the second goal a little bit earlier but, in the end, the boys delivered tonight and that's all we can ask."
Australia's next qualifier is against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide on June 8.
While the Socceroos lived to fight on, there were tears in the UAE camp with their qualification hopes now looking remote.
The loss to Australia left the Emiratis, who had started their campaign with a stunning victory away to Japan, fourth in the group and clinging to faint hopes of finishing third and reaching Russia via the play-offs.
Ali said he had offered to resign after the UAE beat Iraq in a qualifier last November but had been persuaded to stay on.
"I think after five years, I have done my best, we have many achievements," he said.
"This is a very bad time for me, I wish I could leave the national team in a better condition. But this is life, we have to accept it and it is time for me to leave."
In the other Group B match, Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki celebrated his 50th international goal as Japan brushed aside Thailand 4-0 to edge closer to a sixth successive World Cup Finals.
Shinji Kagawa gave the hosts the lead with a sharp finish after eight minutes before Okazaki thundered home a diving header to bring up his half-century in swashbuckling style.
Okazaki's landmark goal, on his 108th Japan appearance, came on 19 minutes in Saitama and effectively sealed the game.
Yuya Kubo and Maya Yoshida added more goals for the Blue Samurai after the break and Eiji Kawashima saved a late penalty from Adisak Kraisorn to deny rock-bottom Thailand a consolation goal.
Japan are top of Group B with 16 points from seven games.
In Group A, Hong Jeong Ho's early goal gave South Korea a 1-0 win over war-torn Syria yesterday to put their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.
China-based Hong struck in the fourth minute, but it was an unconvincing victory for the South Koreans, who were upset 1-0 by China last week.
Uli Stielike's men remain well placed at second in Group A with three games to go.
In a later match, Mehdi Taremi's second-half strike condemned China to a 1-0 defeat by Iran in a major blow to their hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup Finals.
Marcello Lippi's team raised Chinese hopes by upsetting South Korea last week, but they were unable to overturn Iran's flawless home record in Group A.
While Iran, Asia's top-ranked team, maintained their four-point cushion at the top of the group, China are second from bottom with only three games to go. - WIRE SERVICES
- Group A: South Korea 1 Syria 0, Iran 1 China 0, Uzbekistan 1 Qatar 0
- Group B: Japan 4 Thailand 0, Saudi Arabia v Iraq (this morning)