By Michael Church
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Saleh Al Shehri earned Saudi Arabia their second win in a row as Herve Renard’s side beat Oman 1-0 in Muscat on Tuesday to move level on points with Australia at the top of Group B in Asia’s final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
Al Shehri struck after a clever backheel from Fahad Al Muwallad three minutes before the break to take Saudi Arabia onto six points after two games behind the Australians, who defeated Vietnam 1-0 earlier on Tuesday.
Japan, surprise losers in their opening game against Oman last week, bounced back to beat China 1-0 in Doha thanks to Yuya Osako’s first half goal, moving Hajime Moriyasu’s side level with the Omanis on three points.
The Japanese side were dominant in the opening 45 minutes against Li Tie’s team but had to wait until the 43rd minute before Osako volleyed in Junya Ito’s cross from the right wing.
The defeat was China’s second in a row and leaves the east Asians bottom and without a point along with Vietnam.
Iran, meanwhile, underlined their World Cup credentials with an impressive 3-0 win over neighbours Iraq in Doha to claim a second straight Group A victory.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh gave Dragan Skocic’s team the perfect start when he rose high to meet Mehdi Taremi’s cross, powering home a third minute header that goalkeeper Fahad Talib could not keep out.
Taremi then turned from provider to scorer in the 69th minute when he finished off a counterattack by slipping the ball between Talib’s legs.
Ali Gholizadeh added a third when he stroked the ball into the corner of the net in the 90th minute.
Iran now lead Group A with a perfect six points, two clear of South Korea, who moved onto four points with an earlier 1-0 win over Lebanon.
The United Arab Emirates missed the chance to pull level with the Koreans when, after taking the lead, Bert van Marwijk’s side were pegged back in a 1-1 draw with Syria in Amman.
Ali Mabkhout hit the 77th goal of his international career to give the UAE the lead with 11 minutes on the clock, capitalising on an error by goalkeeper Ibrahim Alma to strike.
But defensive slackness from the UAE allowed Mahmoud Al Baher to smash home Syria’s 64th minute equaliser as Nizar Mahrous’ side picked up their first point of the campaign.
The final phase of Asia’s preliminary tournament for Qatar 2022 resumes next month as teams battle for the two automatic World Cup berths available from each of the two groups.
The third placed nations, meanwhile, will advance into a series of playoffs for a possible fifth spot.
(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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