Saudi Arabia qualifies for 2018 World Cup finals

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Jeddah (IINA) � Fahad Al-Muwallad's second-half winner against Japan in Jeddah took Saudi Arabia to its fifth World Cup and consigned Australia to the play-offs Tuesday.

The half-time substitute smashed a fierce shot into the top corner of the net on 63 minutes to secure Group B's second automatic qualifying spot for the Saudis, ahead of Australia on goal difference. The final whistle started celebrations at the packed stadium in Jeddah, with players lifting each other into the air and embracing Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk as traditional Arabian music played.

The presence of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense, at the stadium had an electrifying impact on the spectacular victory of Saudi national team. Jeddah's King Abdullah Sports City Stadium was packed on Tuesday night with more than 62,000 young Saudi fans, who had an opportunity to watch the match free of charge in line with a directive from the Crown Prince, and they cheered their football team to a brilliant win that put the Kingdom on the road to Russia. The Crown Prince flashed the victory sign when the referee blew the final whistle at the end the match. And it was the true reflection of the euphoria of the Saudi youth over this stunning victory. His sign of victory, which heralded an all-out celebrations in the stadium and outside across the Kingdom, had a double effect on the spirit of joy for not only the players and the fans but also the entire Saudi people who were excited to see the Green team roaring into the World Cup finals after a gap of 12 years, Saudi Gazette reported.

It is for the fifth time Saudi Arabia is playing in the World Cup finals and it last played in the finals in Germany in 2006. Both Saudi Arabia and Australia tied on 19 points each but Saudis had 17 goals for against 10, while Aussies ended up with 16 goals for against 11.The Saudis join Iran, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Belgium and hosts Russia in the 32-team tournament, which will take place from June 14 to July 15, 2018.

Elsewhere, Omar Al-Soma's stoppage-time equalizer extended war-torn Syria's World Cup fairytale in Tehran Tuesday, as South Korea booked its spot to reach the tournament for the ninth straight time with a goalless draw with Uzbekistan in Tashkent. Syria was 2-1 down against Iran and heading out, but in the third added minute Mardek Mardkian slid a pass to Al-Soma, who finished through goalkeeper Alireza Salimi's legs. The 2-2 draw was enough to give Syria third place in Group A and a spot in the Asian play-offs against Australia which finished third in Group B.

Syria's heroics also extinguished China's faint hopes of reaching only its second World Cup, despite snatching a 2-1 win over 2022 host Qatar thanks to Wu Lei's late winner in Doha. Earlier in Group B, Australia won 2-1 against Thailand in Melbourne.

The United Arab Emirates also saw their dream die when it lost 1-0 to Iraq to finish fourth in Group B in Amman. But there was jubilation in Tehran as Syria, which has been playing home games in Malaysia to avoid the civil war raging in its country, continued to defy the odds. Syria's goals from Tamer Mohamad and Al Soma were the first conceded in the final round by already qualified Iran, which was playing in its fortress, Azadi Stadium. Mohamad scored in the 13th minute before Iran equalized through Sardar Azmoun, who chested in a rebound on the stroke of half-time and then put the hosts ahead in the 64th minute. Al-Soma's heart-stopping goal had one Syrian team official in tears before the players hugged and celebrated at the final whistle.

Source: International Islamic News Agency