UAE surprises Japan, Australia beats Iraq in WCup qualifying
The United Arab Emirates upset Japan 2-1 to pick up a valuable three points away and Australia scored twice in six minutes to hold off Iraq 2-0 to kick off the final round of Asian qualifying for the World Cup.
Ahmed Khalil scored twice in Saitama to help the UAE team overcome an early 1-0 deficit against Japan in Group B.
South Korea got away to a big lead and held on to beat China 3-2 in Group A in Seoul, then Uzbekistan beat Syria 1-0 in Tashkent, and Iran defeated Qatar 2-0 at Tehran.
Saudi Arabia edged Thailand 1-0 in Group B, leaving UAE as the only team with an away win in the opening matches of the round.
The top two teams in each group automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and the third-place teams go into a playoff for an intercontinental qualifier for the last spot in Russia.
Asian Cup champion Australia's next match will be a tough one — UAE on Tuesday in the heat and humidity of Abu Dhabi.
"This is no surprise, UAE is a very good team, and this is a very difficult group," Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said, when told of UAE's win moments after the Socceroos beat Iraq.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES 2, JAPAN 1
A month-long training camp in Spain appears to have helped the UAE, while four-time Asian champion Japan struggled to put together its top team after some players arrived only a few days ahead of the match. An unmarked Keisuke Honda gave Japan the lead in the 11th minute from a free kick, but Khalil, the Asian player of the year, equalized nine minutes later. Khalil scored his second from the penalty spot nine minutes into the second half.
AUSTRALIA 2, IRAQ 0
Second-half goals from Massimo Luongo and Tomi Juric gave Australia the win after a frustrating first half. Australia had 20 shots to six and had 72 percent of possession but their passing wasn't accurate, while Iraq crowded the midfield and defended well. "We've got this one out of the way, now we need to recover and play again in a few days," Australia captain Mile Jedinak said.
SOUTH KOREA 3, CHINA 2
South Korea held on to beat China. Zheng Zhi's own-goal put South Korea ahead, Lee Chung-yong headed home the second, and Koo Ja-cheol made it 3-0 midway through the second half. But Hai Yu pulled a goal back for China in the 74th, and Hao Junmin curled home a free kick two minutes later. South Korea, the 2002 World Cup semifinalist, plays Syria on Tuesday, when China hosts Iran.
UZBEKISTAN 1, SYRIA 0
Forward Alexandr Geynrikh went on in the second half and scored the only goal late at Tashkent, pouncing on a rebound and sending a half-volley into the Syrian goal. Syria had a late equalizer chance but Omro Al Midani's effort was blocked.
IRAN 2, QATAR 0
Injury-time goals from Reza Ghoochannejhad and Alireza Jahanbaksh secured the win for three-time World Cup qualifier Iran at Azadi Stadium. Substitute Ghoochannejhad capitalized on a mistake by Qatar goalkeeper Amine Lacomte to give the home side the lead four minutes into injury time, and Jahanbaksh's long-range strike clinched the win.
SAUDI ARABIA 1, THAILAND 0
Attacking midfielder Nawaf Al Abed scored from the penalty spot in the 84th minute at Riyadh's King Fahd International Stadium to give Saudi Arabia its fifth win over Thailand — along with a scoreless draw — in six internationals.