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Japan and Saudi Arabia qualified for FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in contrasting style on Thursday.
While a 1-1 draw against China saw Saudi Arabia make the grade after the evening clash, earlier in the day Japan qualified for a seventh successive World Cup after beating Australia 2-0 in Sydney and ending the Socceroos’ chances of automatic qualification.
Saudi Arabia’s FIFA World Cup qualification celebrations were somewhat muted as Herve Renard’s side were forced to share points with China in Sharjah in their Group B of AFC Asian Qualifiers - Road to Qatar clash after a late penalty from Zhu Chenjie.
Saleh Al Shehri put the Saudis in front in first half injury time before Zhu’s 82nd minute spot kick levelled the scores.
As a result the Japanese (21 points) will go into Tuesday’s final round of matches with a one point lead over Saudi Arabia with Australia in third spot. China remain in fifth with the draw moving them onto six points from nine games.
Saudi Arabia dictated the tempo throughout the 90 minutes, spending much of the first half camped out in Chinese territory but for all their dominance they were unable to find a way past a packed, disciplined defence.
Hattan Bahebri dragged his effort wide of the target from the edge of the area a quarter of an hour into the game while the Al Shabab man was off target again in the 28th minute, sending an attempt over the bar.
Salem Al Dawsari was reduced to also trying his luck from the edge of the area as the Saudis met a Chinese wall of resistance, with his effort also off target.
It took until the first minute of injury time before the Saudis took the lead. Salman Al Faraj’s corner found Al Shehri as he drifted towards the near post, and the striker cleverly glanced a header that flew across Yan Junling and nestled into the far corner of the goal.
Renard’s team sought to build on their lead with Ahmed Sharahili missing a golden opportunity 13 minutes after the restart when he pulled the ball wide of Yan Junling’s goal after being found with time and space by Al Shehri’s cutback.
Al Dawsari went closer still six minutes later when he charged through the Chinese midfield, evading Zhang Linpeng’s slashing challenge before unleashing a curling effort that Yan pushed away for a corner at full stretch.
The Saudis had rarely been troubled but, with time running out, Li Xiaopeng’s side were awarded a penalty when the ball struck Abdulelah Al Amri on the hand. Zhu stepped up to confidently claim his first international goal and earn his side a point.
Mitoma nabs last-gasp double for Japan
Kaoru Mitoma scored a last-gasp double against hosts Australia in Sydney on Thursday.
The Union SG winger came off the bench to snatch two late goals and break Socceroos hearts with a second-half cameo that proved priceless for the visitors.
Introduced in the 84th minute for Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino, Mitoma notched his first effort five minutes later after tucking a cut-back beyond Mathew Ryan at close-range.
He then doubled his tally in injury-time to seal victory, coasting into the box on a glorious solo run before forcing a fumble from Ryan to finish.
Victory means the Samurai Blue move six points clear of Australia, to confirm both themselves and Saudi Arabia as the latest Asian teams to qualify after Iran and South Korea previously booked their place.
Graham Arnold’s third-place side will still get a chance to reach Qatar through the Asian fourth-round playoff, against either the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon or Iraq.
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