HONG KONG (Reuters) - South Korea secured a ninth straight appearance at the World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Tuesday to claim a place at the finals in Russia next year.
Lee Keun-ho, Son Heung-min and Lee Dong-gook all hit the woodwork for Shin Tae-yong’s Koreans, but it mattered little as they earned the point that sealed second place in Group A of Asia’s qualifying competition behind already-qualified Iran.
Syria took third spot in the group to seal a playoff place as Omar Al Soma’s late goal earned Ayman Hakeem’s side a dramatic 2-2 draw with Iran that pushed Uzbekistan out of the playoff positions.
Syria took the lead in Tehran and became the first team to score against Iran in 13 qualification matches when Tamer Haj Mohamed netted from close range after Al Soma’s free kick had been fumbled by Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
A double from Sardar Azmoun looked to have given Iran all three points until Al Soma - playing only his second match for Syria since his return from a self-imposed exile - slid the ball through Beiranvand’s legs to level deep into stoppage time.
The draw meant Syria finished level on 13 points with Uzbekistan but took third place on goal difference. They will now go into a playoff against the third-placed team in Group B.
Their opponent will be determined when Japan take on Saudi Arabia in Jeddah later on Tuesday, with the Saudis needing to win to secure their place at the finals alongside the Japanese.
Victory for Saudi Arabia would see them finish second, ahead on goal difference of Australia, who won 2-1 against Thailand in Melbourne.
Ange Postecoglou’s team were made to work hard for the three points against a Thai side that packed the defense.
Tomi Juric gave the Socceroos the lead after 69 minutes only for Pokklaw Anan to pull Thailand level against the run of play.
Mathew Leckie restored Australia’s lead but, with the home side looking to win by as big a margin as possible to give themselves an advantage over the Saudis, the atmosphere at AAMI Stadium fizzled out at the end.
The hopes of the United Arab Emirates evaporated with a 1-0 loss to Iraq thanks to Aymen Hussein’s goal while China’s chances of appearing at the World Cup went the same way despite a 2-1 win over Qatar.
Marcello Lippi’s team came back from going a goal behind to Akram Afif to claim all three points, but it was not enough for the Chinese to haul themselves into the playoff places.
Xiao Zhi and Wu Lei scored for Lippi’s team, who have won three of their last five games but fell a point short of maintaining their World Cup dream.
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Toby Davis