South Korea, Saudis into World Cup; Australia to face Syria

South Korea booked their place at a ninth straight World Cup finals on yesterday evening as a 0-0 draw with Uzbekistan was enough for Shin Tae-yong and his team to book their ticket for Russia while Saudi Arabia's 1-0 win over Japan condemned Australia to a place in the playoffs.

Fahad Al Muwallad's thunderbolt of a strike ensured the Saudis will go to the World Cup for the first time since 2006, joining Japan, South Korea and Iran as Asia's representatives at next year's tournament.

Now Australia faces Syria in a two-match October playoff for the right to enter a November showdown with the fourth-place team from CONCAFAF, the Central and North American region. The winner of the intercontinental playoff will earn a spot at Russia 2018.

However, there was heartbreak for Uzbekistan as a late goal from Omar Al Soma in Tehran saw Syria move into third place in the group as Aymen Hakeem's side sealed a 2-2 draw with already-qualified Iran on a dramatic final night of Asia's qualifying campaign.

"I am very proud of my players," Syria coach Ayman Hakeem said. "We still have a chance of going to the World Cup. It is too early to talk about Australia, but we know it will be a tough game."

Syria's achievement is all the more impressive as the team has been unable to play games at home because of the ongoing conflict in the country. Home games have instead been at a relatively empty stadium in Malaysia.


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