Soccer-Iran Holds Joint Perfect Record in Asia World Cup Qualifiers

(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia retained the last perfect record in the final phase of Asia’s World Cup preliminaries on Tuesday as Herve Renard’s side claimed a 3-2 victory over China in Jeddah.

Sami Al Naji scored twice in the first half and Firas Al Buraikan added a third after substitute Luo Guofu had pulled one back for China seconds into the second half.

An 87th minute goal from Wu Xi, when substitute goalkeeper Fawaz Al Qarni spilled the ball into his own net, ensured a nervous finish but the three-time Asian champions held on.

Group A leaders Iran held the other perfect record ahead of Tuesday’s games but Dragan Skocic’s side needed an Alireza Jahanbakhsh header to earn a 1-1 draw with South Korea in Tehran after Son Heung-min gave the visitors the lead after the break.

The Iranians lead the standings with 10 points, two more than the Koreans, with the pair well clear of the chasing pack.

Only the top two finishers in each of Asia’s two qualifying groups are guaranteed to progress to the World Cup, with the third placed teams entering into a series of playoffs.

The Saudis are now three points clear at the top of Group B after Australia’s winning streak was ended by Japan at Saitama Stadium earlier on Tuesday when Aziz Behich’s late own goal handed the Samurai Blue a 2-1 victory.

Australia are second on nine points, while Oman sit third, level on six points with Japan, following their 3-1 win over last-placed Vietnam with six rounds of matches remaining.

Branko Ivankovic’s Oman side came back from going behind to a 39th minute goal from Nguyen Tien Linh in Muscat as Issam Al Sabhi, Mohsin Al Khaldi and Salah Al Yahyaei netted.

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s Al Naji thumped home the opener from outside the area 15 minutes into the game and added the second when he steered Sultan Al Ghannam’s inviting cross over the line with his knee seven minutes before the break.

Luo was introduced at halftime and scored with a spectacular effort inside the first minute of the second half, but Al Buraikan’s close-range goal restored the Saudis’ two-goal cushion 18 minutes from time.

Wu’s low drive was then fumbled over his own line by Saudi keeper Al Qarni and, having initially been ruled out, the goal was awarded after referee Ilgiz Tantashev consulted the pitchside monitor, setting up a dramatic finish.

Lebanon, with five points, moved into third spot in the group thanks to a brace in first-half stoppage time from Mohamad Kdouh that earned Ivan Hasek’s team a 3-2 win over Syria.

The fourth-placed United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, had Ali Mabkhout to thank for their 2-2 draw with Iraq in Dubai when the Al Jazira forward netted four minutes into stoppage time to deny the Dick Advocaat-coached team a win.

Bert van Marwijk’s side are level on three points with the Iraqis. Syria are bottom of the group on one point.

(Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Ken Ferris)