Australia, Saudi get a chance to advance but Japan has to wait in World Cup Asian qualifying

Sun, Mar 24, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Australia, Saudi get a chance to advance but Japan has to wait in World Cup Asian qualifying

Australia and Saudi Arabia are among the Asian Football Confederation heavyweights aiming to secure a spot in the next stage of World Cup qualifying with wins Tuesday, while Japan's bid to advance will have to wait after North Korea cancelled a home game in Pyongyang.

Just hours after a 1-0 loss to Japan in Tokyo last week, the North Koreans informed tournament organizers that they could not host the return match.

FIFA, the sport's world governing body, later canceled the qualifier after deciding the game "shall neither be played nor rescheduled" because North Korea couldn't come up with an alternative venue and there was no room in the calendar for a postponement.

"The matter and match outcome will be referred to the FIFA disciplinary committee," FIFA announced, which indicates North Korea will be sanctioned with a 3-0 forfeit.

North Korea has so far only one win from three games - all away from home - in Group B of Asia qualifying. Japan has nine points from three consecutive wins.

The top two teams from each of the nine groups will advance to the third round, where Asia's allocation of eight automatic World Cup slots for 2026 is available.

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Like Japan, Saudi Arabia has won all three games so far and can secure its spot in the next stage if it can complete back-to-back wins over Tajikistan in Group G following its win at Riyadh last week.

"We know that Tajikistan is a strong team and has been improving," Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini said. "It will be a tough game for us but we are looking forward to the challenge."

Australia also has nine points and can guarantee its progression to the next stage from Group I with a victory over Lebanon in Canberra. The game was originally scheduled to take place in Beirut but due to the security situation in the region Lebanon remained in Australia following its 2-0 loss in Sydney last week.

Qatar, Iraq and United Arab Emirates also have maximum points and are potentially one win away from the last 18. South Korea, however, slipped up against Thailand with a 1-1 draw in Seoul.

It was South Korea's first appearance since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as head coach last month following a disappointing Asian Cup campaign,

The teams will meet again in front of an expected sell-out crowd of 60,000 in Bangkok.

"We have to approach the game calmly and with one mind," South Korea's interim coach Hwang Sun-hong said. "We know what we need to do, and will do our best."

Son Heung-min's goal in Seoul last week was his 45th for South Korea, five behind Hwang's mark.

"I hope he breaks my record quickly as he will continue to do well in the future," said Hwang, who retired in 2002 after playing more than 100 games for South Korea's national team.

The South Koreans leads Group C, three points above Thailand and China, which let a two-goal lead slip against No. 156-ranked Singapore to draw 2-2 last week.

It was the first game under new coach Branko Ivankovic appointed after the Asian Cup in which China exited at the group stage and didn't score a single goal.

"We had a good situation in the first half, but I told the players that 2-0 was a dangerous score," Ivankovic said. "We were prepared to take three points but we only took one and now we are looking forward to the next match. We know what we have to do."

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