Asian Cup: China, Iran qualify with Japan but Aussies must wait

SINGAPORE (AFP) — China, Iran, Japan, Bahrain and the UAE qualified for the 2011 Asian Cup finals on Wednesday, but Australia must wait after conceding a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 in Kuwait.

Japan pulled off an escape in the Ali Mohsen Al Muraisi Stadium in Sana'a after Sota Hirayama fired a hat-trick to see off Yemen 3-2 after the hosts had established a two-goal lead through Basem Al Aqel and Sami Karama.

Hirayama pulled one back just before the break - before Khaled Baleid hit the bar for Yemen - and the Blue Samurai striker's close range finish 11 minutes from the end secured the win that ensured they stay atop a Group A from which Bahrain also qualify after thumping Hong Kong 4-0.

The game in Sana'a was under threat of being called off following the attempted bombing on Christmas Day of a US-bound airliner.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group's Yemen-based arm, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Australia's hopes are still in the balance after Pim Verbeek's Socceroos failed to see off Kuwait despite Luke Wilkshire and Central Coast Mariners defender Dean Hefferman putting the visitors 2-0 up inside five minutes.

Kuwait roared back and scored twice in a frenetic end to the opening period through Hamad Al Enezi and Yousef Nasser.

Al Enezi drew a fine save from Aussie keeper Eugene Galekovic nine minutes from time to keep the Socceroos level with the Kuwaitis in Group B on eight points but second on goal difference.

Oman's 2-1 win over Indonesia in Jakarta means they are still in the mix on seven points - but the Indonesians are out.

Australia still have to entertain the Indonesians while Kuwait travel to Oman.

Perennial underachievers China secured their berth with a hard-fought goalless draw in Zhejiang against qualified Syria in Group D.

But Gao Hongbo's team had to wait an agonising 40 minutes to hear the result from Beirut, where minnows Lebanon held Vietnam to a 1-1 draw which sent the Chinese through.

Mehrad Madanchi (R) of Iran controls the ball as Muhammad Ridhuan (L) of Singapore moves to tackle him on Jan. 6, 2009 in their Asian Cup qualifier in Singapore(AFP photo)

It was sweet revenge for China, who lost 3-2 to Syria at the start of the qualifying campaign almost a year ago under caretaker coach Yin Tiesheng, but since then had recorded three straight wins before Wednesday's draw.

Iran, a traditional Asian powerhouse still recovering from its failure to make next year's World Cup in South Africa, ensured they will kick-off in Doha in January 2011 with a convincing 3-1 victory in Singapore.

While the home team started brightly, defensive blunders gifted Iran two goals in the space of 60 seconds.

Hadi Aghli opened the Iranian account with a penalty on 11 minutes and Mehrzad Madanchi made it 2-0 a minute later after picking up a stray Mustafic Fahrudin pass on the edge of the box and firing home.

Nor Alam Shah pulled one back for the home side just after half-an-hour but a delicate chip from Radham Rezaei mid-way through the second period sealed victory for Iran.

Singapore can still reach their first Asian Cup finals since hosting the competition back in 1984 after Bryan Robson's Thailand failed to dispatch Jordan.

Their 0-0 draw in Bangkok draw means Singapore and Thailand both have six points with Jordan on five and a game to play.

Jordan would appear to have the advantage with a home tie against Singapore on March 3 while Thailand must travel to Iran.

Uzbekistan and Syria had already booked their places at the showpiece in Qatar, along with the host nation and Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, the top three in the 2007 tournament.

India are also through as the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup winners

A last-gasp goal from substitute Ahmed Khalil sent United Arab Emirates through after he scored in stoppage-time to seal a 1-0 Group C win over Malaysia at Al Shabab Stadium.

In Manama, Ismail Abdullateef scored a hat-trick and Abdulla Al Dhakeel netted the other to leave Bahrain coach Milan Macala a happy man as his men progressed with Japan.

"The main thing was to qualify and now that we have achieved it, we are not bothered too much about the final scoreline," said the Czech.

Hong Kong coach Fai Chun Liu said the result was not totally unexpected but added that it was a good learning experience.

"We played well in the opening stages. But once we conceded the first goal we tried too hard to get back into the match," said Liu.

Source: AFP

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