Beaten China squeeze into final phase of World Cup qualifying

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Location: www.channelnewsasia.com

HONG KONG: China squeezed into the third and final round of Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup despite suffering a 1-0 defeat at South Korea on Tuesday (Jun 11), with Indonesia also progressing on a night of drama.

Paris Saint-Germain's Lee Kang-in scored just after the hour in Seoul for South Korea, who were already into the next qualifying phase as group winners.

The damaging loss left China's World Cup hopes hanging by a thread, but Thailand failed to take advantage as their dreams of progressing fell agonisingly short.

They needed to beat basement side Singapore by three goals in Bangkok to leapfrog China into second place in Group C of the second qualifying phase, but the Thais could only win 3-1.

China and Thailand finished with the same number of points and the same goal difference, but the Chinese went through with a superior head-to-head record.

Some of the Thai players were in tears at the end.

In contrast to the crushing disappointment in Bangkok, Indonesia celebrated reaching the third qualifying round for the first time with a 2-0 home victory over the Philippines.

Indonesia joined Iraq in advancing out of Group F, with Thom Haye and Rizky Ridho the goal-scoring heroes in front of a raucous crowd of 64,000 in Jakarta.

FIVE-STAR JAPANĀ 

Elsewhere, coach Hajime Moriyasu warned Japan that the final qualifying round will be "a completely different level" after thrashing Syria 5-0 to go through with a 100 per cent record.

Moriyasu's side completed the second qualifying stage on maximum points with 24 goals scored and none conceded after an easy win in Hiroshima.

Japan are looking to qualify for their eighth straight World Cup when the tournament takes place in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"We were facing a team that had to win, and the players got the result by working hard to prepare, doing the things that they had to do," said the coach.

"But the final round coming up will be a completely different level from the second round."

North Korea thrashed Myanmar 4-1 in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to leapfrog Syria and join Japan in moving out of Group B.

In Group D, Malaysia defeated Taiwan 3-1 at home but it is unlikely to be enough, unless Kyrgyzstan lose to Oman later by seven goals.

In a dead rubber in Group I, Australia thrashed Palestine 5-0 in Perth with Portsmouth's Kusini Yengi scoring twice, one from the spot. Both sides were already into the next phase.

Like Japan, Australia had maximum points in the second phase and did not concede a goal in six games.

Eighteen teams will contest the third qualifying round in Asia, when there will be direct spots for the World Cup up for grabs.