THE Socceroos’ bid for direct World Cup qualification has been boosted by Asian rivals Japan being held to a 1-1 draw against Iraq in Tehran.
Group B leaders Japan’s failure to take full points on Tuesday has them on 17 points, with Australia one point behind Samurai Blue in third.
Saudi Arabia sit in second spot, equal with the Socceroos on points but with a superior goal difference despite Australia’s 3-2 win in Adelaide last week.
Japan remains in pole position to be the first of two group B teams to automatically qualify for Russia 2018 with a goal difference of plus-nine, while the Saudis sit plus-seven and the Socceroos plus-six with all teams having played eight matches.
Australia will meet Japan on August 31 before wrapping up its direct qualification campaign against Thailand a week later.
Japan and Saudi Arabia, who each have five wins to Australia’s four, will clash on September 5 after the Green Falcons’ qualifier against the United Arab Emirates on August 31.
GROUP B STANDINGS
1/ Japan – 17 points, +9 goal difference
2/ Saudi Arabia – 16pts, +7
3/ Australia – 16pts, +6
4/ UAE – 10pts, -3
5/ Iraq – 5pts, -3
6/ Thailand – 2pt, -16
On Tuesday, Japan’s Yuya Osaka scored a header early in the match in Tehran, where Iraq plays its home games for security reasons.
But Mahdi Kamel equalised in the second half for the already-eliminated Iraqis. Also in group B, the UAE scored an injury-time goal to gain a 1-1 draw against Thailand.
The result against the last-placed Thais effectively ends the UAE’s campaign to make their first World Cup since 1990.
In group A, South Korea has work to do to reach a ninth successive World Cup after losing to Qatar 3-2 in Doha.
South Korea stays second in the group to Iran, who became the first and only Asian team so far to qualify for Russia.
The Koreans are one point above third-place Uzbekistan and travel to Tashkent for the final game in September.
Fourth-placed Syria drew 2-2 with China in the Malaysian city of Melaka.
GROUP A STANDINGS
1/ Iran – 20pts, +8
2/ South Korea – 13pts, +2
3/ Uzbekistan – 12pts, 0
4/ Syria – 9pts, -1
5/ Qatar – 7pts, -4
6/ China – 6pts, -5
POTENTIAL 3RD PLACE PLAY-OFF OPPONENTS
A third place finish in Group B would force the Socceroos to face a two-legged play-off against the third best team in Group A.
The winner of that will than have to play the fourth best team from CONCACAF over two legs in a bid to reach Russia 2018.
As it stands in Group A, Iran (20 points) and South Korea (13 points) are in the two automatic qualification spots.
Just one point behind South Korea, in third place, is Uzbekistan — at this stage the likely play-off opponent, who have a have a substantial gap on the next best side Syria.
The next Group A qualifiers are below, where the final qualifying games in September could determine who finishes third.
>> Thur 31 August: China v Uzbekistan, Syria v Qatar, South Korea v Iran
>> Tues 5 September: Qatar v China, Iran v Syria, Uzbekistan v South Korea
CONCACAF STANDINGS >> TOP 3 qualify, fourth goes to AFC play-off
1/ Mexico – 10
2/ Costa Rica – 7
3/ Panama – 5
4/ USA – 4
5/ Honduras – 4
6/ Trinidad and Tobago – 3
ROOS’ UPCOMING FIXTURES
– CONFEDS: Australia v Germany, Tuesday 20 June at 1.00am (Russia)
– CONFEDS: Cameroon v Australia, Friday 23 June at 1.00am (Russia)
– CONFEDS: Chile v Australia, Monday 26 June at 1.00am (Russia)
– WCQ: Japan v Australia, Thursday 31 August (Saitama)
– WCQ: Australia v Thailand, Tuesday 5 September (TBC)