South Korea’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup were left hanging in the balance after a 0-0 draw against 10-man Iran in Seoul Thursday when a win would have booked their ticket for Russia 2018.
Syria’s 3-1 victory over Qatar coupled with China’s 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Thursday’s other Group A matches means a defeat for the Koreans in their final match in Tashkent on Tuesday could see them fail to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1982.
Already having qualified from Group A, Iran played the majority of the second half at the Seoul World Cup Stadium a man down after Saeid Ezatolahi’s red card. But South Korea could not breach Iran’s defence to clinch their ninth consecutive World Cup finals berth in front of more than 63,000 fans.
Second-placed Korea have a two-point lead over both third-placed Syria and fourth-placed Uzbekistan in Group A and will need to beat the Uzbeks in Tashkent on Tuesday to be sure of claiming the second automatic qualifying berth.
But should they lose then Syria could knock them out of the World Cup with a win against unbeaten Iran in Tehran.
South Korea and Iran traded few chances in the opening half.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min took a free-kick from just outside the box in the 17th minute, but his low shot rolled off the leg of an Iranian player and out of play.
Midfielder Jang Hyun-Soo almost headed one in for the hosts two minutes later, but saw his attempt bounce just wide of the gaping Iranian net.
Iran recorded just one attempt on target before half-time in the 37th minute when Heerenveen forward Reza Ghoochannejhad managed to get off a shot with three defenders smothering him, though it went straight to goalkeeper Kim Seung-Gyu.
Iran were reduced to 10 men seven minutes into the second half, when Ezatolahi was shown a straight red card after he recklessly stamped on the head of Kim Min-Jae following an aerial clash between the pair.
South Korea couldn’t take advantage of their extra man and wasted another free-kick opportunity in the 78th minute, when Kwon Chang-Hoon’s left-footed shot from outside the right edge of the box sailed over the bar.
“We tried to turn the tide with substitutions and score a goal, but we couldn’t do it,” said Korean coach Shin Tae-Yong, who vowed to go all out for the win in Tashkent on Tuesday.
“We play for victories, and we will do the same for the match against Uzbekistan,” Shin said. Meanwhile, Omar Kharbin struck twice as war-torn Syria gave their 2018 World Cup dreams a huge boost with a 3-1 win over Qatar in Melaka, Malaysia, on Tuesday.
The result propelled Syria, forced to play all their home games in Malaysia because of the civil war back home, to third position in Group A and a potential playoff spot.
The Syrians took advantage of Uzbekistan’s slip-up as they lost 1-0 in China to leapfrog the Uzbeks into the playoff picture on goal difference.
The result ended Qatar’s fleeting hopes of qualifying for Russia 2018 and means the tiny Middle East nation will host the 2022 edition without ever having managed to qualify for the World Cup finals.
Syria made their intentions clear early on and Kharbin gave his side the lead with his seventh-minute strike, a swerving finish past the outstretched arms of Saad Al Sheeb after the Qatar defence failed to close him down.—AFP