Saudi Arabia pip Australia to Russia 2018 berth

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Saudi Arabia sealed qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday after claiming a hard-fought 1-0 win over Japan at the King Abdullah Sports City.

The only goal of the game arrived three minutes after the hour mark, when Fahad Al-Muwallad latched onto Nawaf Al-Abed’s deft flick and unleashed a rocket of a strike past Eiji Kawashima.

With the win, the Saudis finished second in Group B of the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying, booking their ticket to Russia next summer.

On the other hand, Australia now have to wait to advance despite beating Thailand 2-1 at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium earlier on Tuesday.

Tomi Juric opened the scoring for the Socceroos in the 69th minute when he nodded home an Aaron Mooy cross, only for Thailand to equalise through an emphatic finish by Pokklaw Anan 13 minutes later.

With four minutes remaining, Mathew Leckie netted to win it for Australia but their failure to add more to their tally proved costly as they finished behind the Saudis on goal difference.

The Australians will now have to negotiate their way past Syria, Group A’s third-placed team, in the next round, with the winner of that tie then facing off against CONCACAF’s fourth-ranked side in the fifth round of qualifying for a World Cup berth.

Finally, Group B’s remaining game of the evening saw Iraq defeat United Arab Emirates 1-0 courtesy of an Ayman Hussein effort in the 29th minute.