UAE and Australia Qualify for Asian 2022 World Cup Playoffs
Since Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and South Korea had already booked their tickets to Qatar’s 2022 World Cup earlier this year, the only tickets left to grab during the final matches of the Asian qualifiers were for two runner up places. Teams from Groups A and B, fighting for the two third-place slots, were fighting for a chance to face one another in a sudden-death match in June. The head-to-head wouldn’t take the winner directly to the 2022 tournament, but it would offer them a chance to play at the inter-confederation playoffs, which might.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iraq were the only squads in Group A left with a fighting chance of taking the win; Australia had already won the runner-up slot for Group B on points.
The UAE were up against South Korea for their final match of the Asian qualifiers. At the beginning of the game, they sat in third, playoff qualifying place on 9 points. However, Iraq’s previous win over the UAE on March 24th left them in fourth place on 8 points - dangerously close to stealing the runner-up prize. If the UAE did not defeat the South Koreans on the 29th and Iraq were victorious against Syria, the tables would turn, and the UAE would have to wait another four years to try and score their second World Cup appearance.
On the day, South Korea, one of Asia’s top three teams and widely tipped to beat the UAE during their bout, lost the match 1-0 despite their dominance on the field. Iraq, meanwhile, could only manage a draw against a determined Syria, meaning the UAE secured their place in third and a showdown against Group B’s Australia.
It was a slow start for South Korea and the UAE, but the Koreans picked up the pace as the first half wore on and made a couple of goal attempts. Despite dominating, the Koreans couldn’t find the back of the net, and the first half ended goallessly. The Taegeuk Warriors continued their offensive as the second half of the game swung into action. However, it was the UAE who opened the scoring in the 54th. Harib Al Maazmi left alone and in range of the Arab goal, powered the ball home to take the lead. While South Korea tried to find the equaliser in the last thirty-six minutes, they couldn’t get past the UAE’s backline, who defended with all their might.
On the other hand, Iraq had to come from behind to chase an equaliser after Syria’s Alaa Aldeen Al Dali scored the opening goal of the match in the 3rd minute of the game. The Iraqis pulled one back in the 31st, thanks to Aymen Hussein, but couldn’t manage to find the winner. They had to settle for a share of the points, fourth place in their group and no chance of seeing the World Cup this time around.
After their 2-0 defeat by Japan on March 24th, the Australians' fate was already sealed. Both Japan and Saudi qualified ahead of the Socceroos on points. Regardless of the Aussies' results against Saudi Arabia in the final match of their group, they could rise no higher than third place. Equally, however, fourth-placed Oman couldn't overtake them either, whether they beat China in their final match or not (which they did incidentally, 2-0). So, with their ticket to the sudden-death meeting secured, the Socceroos were free to make changes to their team, try out new techniques and formats against Saudi Arabia, which they did. However, despite bringing on fresh talent for the final game, Australia lost 1-0 after Saudi's Salem Al Dawsari scored the match's only goal in the 65th. The loss is the team's seventh in a row.
So, Australia will now meet the UAE in Doha on June 7th to decide who will play at the inter-confederation playoff against the runner up of the South American 2022 qualifiers. The Socceroos will have to dig deep to break their losing streak and win their last chance at the 2022 World Cup!
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