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Socceroos to face UAE in World Cup playoff

The Socceroos will have to beat the United Arab Emirates in an Asian playoff tie if they are keep their dream alive of making it to the World Cup finals.

Graham Arnold’s Australian team, who have their work severely cut out to qualify for the global showpiece in Qatar at the end of the year, learned on Tuesday that the UAE will be their first opponents in the demanding play-off route.

It followed the UAE’s 1-0 victory, against the run of play, over the already-qualified South Korea at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.

Teenager Hareb Abdalla was the UAE’s surprise matchwinner, scoring the only goal of the game in the 54th minute to ensure they finished third in Group A behind South Korea and winners Iran.

Now they can dream about the possibility of a second finals appearance 32 years after their first in Italy 1990.

Australia, the third-placed team from group B who also failed to gain automatic qualification after last week’s disappointing defeat by Japan, will now play the UAE at a neutral venue in Qatar on June 7.

The winner of that tie will then have to beat the fifth-placed side from South America – either Colombia, Peru or Chile – to reach the finals in November and December.

It won’t be easy for the Socceroos with Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s UAE side having become the first team to keep the Koreans scoreless in their last six qualifiers.

It was a triumph for Argentinian Arruabarrena, who was only given the job last month after the sacking of the UAE’s boss, Dutchman Bert van Marwijk who’d previously taken Australia to the World Cup finals in 2018.

The South Koreans hit the woodwork twice but 19-year-old Abdalla, only in the side to deputise for suspended forward Ali Mabkhout, coolly dispatched his rare opportunity, slotting past goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo.

The Emirates could have had the third place snatched from them if they’d lost but they comfortably stayed ahead of Iraq, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Syria.

Elsewhere, Iran earned a 2-0 win over Lebanon in Mashhad through goals from Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh to ensure Dragan Skocic’s side finished on top of Group A, two points ahead of the Koreans.

In Group B, Japan defender Maya Yoshida’s second-half goal earned a 1-1 draw with Vietnam at Saitama Stadium as Hajime Moriyasu’s World Cup-bound side brought down the curtain on their preliminary campaign.

The Japanese team, who confirmed their place at a seventh consecutive World Cup finals with victory over Australia on Thursday, were forced to fight back after Nguyen Thanh Binh’s 19th minute header had given the visitors the lead.

Oman finished their campaign with a 2-0 win over China in Muscat, with goals from Arshad Al Alawi and Abdullah Fawaz.

With Reuters

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