Soccer-Azmoun on Target as Iran and China Advance in Asian Qualifying

FILE PHOTO: Sardar Azmoun. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Michael Church

HONG KONG, June 16 (Reuters) – Sardar Azmoun’s first half goal earned Iran  1-0 win over Iraq on Tuesday and a spot in the final round of Asia’s World Cup preliminaries, as China also progressed to the next phase of qualifying for Qatar 2022 with a 3-1 victory over Syria.

On a night when eight places in the 12-team third round remained unclaimed prior to kick-off, Saudi Arabia handed Uzbekistan a 3-0 loss to secure top spot in Group D to advance, ending the Central Asians’ World Cup hopes in the process.

The United Arab Emirates defeated Vietnam 3-2 to win Group G but both nations advanced while Oman and Lebanon were also confirmed as having secured their berths in the third round.

Japan, South Korea, Australia and the Syrians had already booked their spots prior to Tuesday’s round of group matches.

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Azmoun struck from close range 10 minutes from the end of the first half against Iraq in Bahrain to earn a fourth win in a row and seal first place in Group C with victory over their neighbours, who also qualify as one of the five best runners-up.

The Chinese also took a runners-up spot as Li Tie’s side handed Syria, already confirmed as Group A winners, a 3-1 defeat thanks to goals from Zhang Xizhe, Wu Lei and Zhang Yuning.

Salman Al Faraj’s first half double gave Saudi Arabia plenty of breathing space in their crucial clash with Uzbekistan, with both goals coming inside the first 33 minutes for Herve Renard’s side.

Ali Al Hassan added the third to give the Saudis a win that not only won them Group D, but left Uzbekistan missing out on one of the spots available for the second place finishers.

Bert van Marwijk’s UAE side completed a late charge for a spot in the next round when their 3-2 win over Vietnam moved them into first place in Group G.

Ali Salmeen, Ali Mabkhout and Mahmoud Khamees gave the UAE a three-goal lead before Nguyen Tian Linh and Tran Minh Vuong scored late efforts as the Vietnamese did enough to qualify for the final round for the first time in their history.

Oman, another of those who go through as one of the best runners-up, defeated Bangladesh 3-0 to confirm their second place finish in Group E behind Qatar, who will not feature in the third round due to their status as World Cup hosts.

The Lebanese, who lost their final game against the South Koreans on Sunday, claimed the last of the five runners-up spots available after Uzbekistan’s defeat and Jordan’s 1-0 loss to Group B winners Australia.

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Hugh Lawson)