Iran, Qatar book Asian Cup places, China wait

Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:59pm EST
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By Patrick Johnston

(Reuters) - Three-times champions Iran cruised into the 2015 Asian Cup finals after thrashing Lebanon 4-1 on Tuesday, but China missed the chance to join them and face a nerve-jangling final qualifier after being held to a goalless draw by Saudi Arabia.

World Cup-bound Iran were one of five teams to qualify for the finals from the nine matches played in the penultimate round on Tuesday, with fellow west Asian sides Qatar, Oman and Kuwait also securing berths, as well as Uzbekistan.

Twelve teams have now booked a place at the 16-team finals in Australia, with few big-name casualties apart from in Group C, where 2007 winners Iraq or China will battle it out in March to decide who joins Saudi Arabia in escaping the group.

China will feel they should already be planning an 11th consecutive appearance in the Asian showpiece event, but they could not find a way past a stubborn Saudi backline in Xi'an.

"We need to learn how to convert dominance into a winning situation. I hope we can make it in the last game," China's caretaker coach, Fu Bo, told reporters.

China have eight points from five games in the group, two ahead of Iraq, who kept their finals hopes alive by easing to a 2-0 win in Indonesia.

Hammadi Ahmed scored with a powerful downward header and Kerrar Jassim coolly converted a penalty as the visitors were able to turn their attentions to a home match against China.

"The result of China's game means a lot for us," Iraq coach Hakeem Shakir told reporters. "It benefits us as it puts China under pressure and it gives us a good chance to qualify."   Continued...