KUALA LUMPUR: Asian Football Confederation president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa has congratulated South Korea and Saudi Arabia for securing Asia’s final two direct spots – after Iran and Japan – at next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
Sheikh Salman said: “I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia. All four teams have shown immense resolve and truly deserve their places in Russia.
“I must also applaud all the teams for their fighting spirit and performing admirably throughout the campaign. Their efforts contributed to one of the most thrilling and closely-fought FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers campaigns in history, with six teams battling for the two direct spots on the final day of the competition.”
On a dramatic final day of qualifying action, Korea Republic sealed second place in Group A and a 10th appearance at the FIFA World Cup after playing to a scoreless draw with Uzbekistan in Tashkent.
Syria meanwhile leapfrogged the Central Asians into the third play-off spot on superior goal difference after they held IR Iran 2-2 in their final Group A match in Tehran.
With both Australia and Saudi Arabia tied on 16 points in Group B, the West Asians rallied to a remarkable 1-0 victory over Japan at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, sealing their place among the world’s best after finishing second in the group on goal difference.
Australia overcame a gritty Thailand side 2-1 at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium but will now have to settle for the play-off route to keep their FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 hopes alive.
Syria will now face Australia over two legs beginning with the first on October 5 and the returning tie just five days later to set up an epic encounter with the fourth-placed team in the CONCACAF final qualifying group in November.